Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A Simple Plan

As manager for a long-term accommodation lodge, I've learnt the hard way not to accept WINZ people in. Although in direct contravention of UN conventions on non-discrimination, I don't give a stuff. It seems fair for the government to gang up on smokers and make them the New Jews, so I suppose it's fair game to discriminate against beneficiaries.

This rule of thumb is not entirely due to the WINZ people themselves, although I've tossed out enough useless shits for not paying their rent or bugging the locals (Although there's a few pages of Terms & Conditions, there are two real rules; pay the rent on time and don't hassle the locals). No, if there's any one reason I'd have to say we leave the WINZers to the competition, it's the government departments' fault.

Wellington is at one end of the Heartland. For many, it is not where they go rather than where they end up. The same goes for Cairns in Oz. Both are the end of the line. Wellington and Northland have the highest unemployment rates in NZ, even after you take account of the sleight-of-hand of in-work payments. I'd also say that Northland and Wellington also have a higher than average number of mental patients. Just because Christchurch has the highest per capita consumption of Prozac, doesn't mean they are the strangest city.

Wellington also has a strong charitable base, in large part to the most excellent works of Suzanne Aubert and latterly Des Britten at Wellington City Mission. In days past, I would have also rated the Sallies. However, their Taranaki St Op Shop has gotten snootier, I've bumped into too many abused people from their care, and they sicced a Bell Gully Buddy on me during Friday drinkies one time (Some sins are unforgivable).

So, combined with the largest social housing stock in the country after Housing NZ, and the country's finest policy analysts living there, Wellington seems perfectly equipped to deal with the unfortunate, unlucky, untrained, un-everything. Wrong. The resources are there. Apart from a few novice philanthropists though, the money is stuck in the logjam of bureaucratic hoops and dramas.

It has been three months since I last had to call the cops, six months since the last emergency response CATT team came round. The threat of Race War has passed, for now, but the chance that someone will go off their meds lingers. Things could be/have been worse, touch wood.

Prospective residents have to fill in an application form declaring any mental or medical problems, as well as criminal convictions. This is not so much for obvious discrimination, as the duty of care entailed in looking after the general welfare of fifty or so people. There are still scars in the concrete from the guy who went mental with a samurai sword a few years back (Why is it always a samurai sword?).

There is no way to check that what they fill in is true. The Privacy Act, which I am a strong supporter of, forbids me from checking whether the prospective tenant is a harmless fruit or a full-on nutjob. Sure, we could get a one-page Privacy Act disclaimer included, but that may freak out the less strange applicants. Criminal convictions are even harder to check on. While the cops are keen to come around for forwarding addresses, they are distinctly cagey about reciprocating. Is that a paroled rapist I've just put in next to the two girls from Masterton?

Then there's the money. There's these Special Needs forms with the supposedly unforgeable hologram that the hard up present at supermarkets for groceries (not including alcohol or tobacco). When I first started my job, I thought you'd treat these cast-iron assurances from WINZ as money in the bank. Wrong. What you see is not necessarily what you get. We have been stung by forms which say $756 and end up with only half that going into the bank some time later. If the government promises you something, don't trust them.

Then there's the WINZ redirections. This is when WINZ take the rent money directly out of their benefit. For the wise ones who know they are bad with their money, this seems the logical step. Unfortunately, as with any bureaucracy, things aren't quite so simple. Rent due in one month is not received until the following month. This is because the WINZ payment must, by law, go through IRD in order to pay the bills. According to Sione from David Benson-Pope's office, such payments are subject to Section 157 of the Tax Administration Act 1994. Peter must pay Paul so Paul can pay Mary one month late.

One alcoholic dirtwad I'll call the Irish Rover (I bet you they don't sing Lilly the Pink in primary schools any more) stopped his payments without telling the then manager. After one too many times of asking me for a corkscrew, I figured what had happened and kicked the deadbeat out and threw his porn and possessions into the wheelie bin.

The random disbursements from the Special Needs forms and WINZ redirections leads to one path; the beneficiaries get into arrears with no way of paying it off. Outski and, preferably, no inski in the first place. The Bullshit Detectors are on full power every time someone wants to move in. Suffice it to say I err on the side of caution. There's only one thing worse than a fuck up, and that's a clusterfuck. Let it be Someone Else's Problem.

In light of the Mighty Mercury Muliaga Matter, there must be a great temptation to Fix All Wrongs with a regulatory magic wand. Already, Jeanette Fitzsimons is suggesting progressive pricing of electricity as if that'll fix things. It's like progressive taxation, but for electricity. Not food, not telephone, just electricity. This is because everyone now has a right to electricity. Oh, bullshit (Jeez, I though I'd turned it off). Mercury has already suspended disconnections indefinitely, meaning that there is now no incentive to pay one's electricity but accumulating debt is OK. Thank you Labour V, we are eternally in your debt.

There is talk of, well, all sorts of things. There are times to be fearful with a light Order Paper. The temptation to ram through populist ill thought-out reactionary legislation may be too strong to ignore. The upshot of which will be that energy suppliers will just front-end the fucker, being more cautious about hooking people up to the grid in the first place through credit control procedures. Far as I know, it still won't be illegal to refuse service. For every well-meaning law, there are a dozen ways to circumvent them. Don't be stupid.