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Winz says food grant pensioner didn't explain need

By Patrice Dougan

Published: 4:12PM Tuesday June 25, 2013 Source: ONE News

A Government department has said an elderly couple refused an emergency food grant left its offices before a full discussion about their situation took place.

Barry Fort, 72, and his partner of 40 years Sandra Watson, 66, applied for a $100 food grant to tide them over until their next pension payment came through, but were turned down by Work and Income New Zealand (Winz) because they had $150 left of a bank overdraft.

Ms Watson feared Mr Fort would end up in hospital if he did not receive regular meals and snacks to help control his type one diabetes.

But today the Government department told ONE News that Ms Watson had left her local Winz office before a proper assessment of their situation had been taken, including a discussion about Mr Fort's diabetes.

Since the New Plymouth couple hit the headlines yesterday the pair have been inundated with offers and deliveries of food and grocery vouchers from kind-hearted strangers, so much so they have had to donate some of the food they received to the local Foodbank.

They applied through the Senior Services arm of Work and Income, and today Senior Services manager, Arthur Grooby, said his department has to maintain a strict system to ensure only those who are entitled to payments receive them.

"Senior Services has an obligation to ensure that a person is in genuine need and money is going to those who are experiencing real hardship," he said in a statement issued to onenews.co.nz.

"At the time that Ms Watson applied for the food grant, we had intended to have a discussion with her about her and Mr Fort's situation but she left our office before we could do so.

"We have since met with Ms Watson and Mr Fort to ensure they are receiving all of the assistance that they are entitled to. We are awaiting additional information from them before we can complete a full assessment of their entitlements."

In previous statements Mr Grooby had said that "based on the information and documentation provided it was determined there was sufficient funds remaining for the couple to purchase food". This was despite the couple insisting that the remainder of their overdraft would be spent on bills, leaving them with no money left for food.

Outlining the guidelines for qualifying for emergency assistance from Winz, Mr Grooby said: "There are times when, through no fault of their own, people may need some extra help to make ends meet. Where there is no way of paying for essential costs, such as food, Senior Services may be able to assist superannuitants with a Special Needs Grant.

"To be eligible, they need to have: exhausted other options for financial assistance; no other way to meet their need; had to cover an essential expense that has left them with insufficient money to pay for groceries."

On its website, Work and Income states that applicants must be able to prove they "have a need that is both immediate and essential".

New Zealand citizens and residents must prove their income is under a certain limit, amounting to $1718.52 for a couple; have cash assets less than a certain amount; the items requested must be urgent or necessary; and they must have no other way to meet these costs.

For food grant applications you must prove you have no available cash.

Documentation must also be provided to prove your financial situation.

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