Work and Income offices have closed their doors, but the Ministry of Social Development is assuring people they will be able to access the help and support they need.
MSD deputy chief executive Viv Rickard said the ministry provides an essential service and they know that more people will be relying on it in the weeks ahead.
That includes delivering essential income support and housing services, wage and leave subsidies for employers, and helping other essential services - like supermarkets - find the workers they need.
MSD offices closed at 5pm yesterday for face-to-face services.
That means services will be provided by phone and online, in the interests of protecting the health and safety of clients and staff.
Rickard said MSD would also move to shift work at its contact and processing centres, so it can provide physical distancing.
"We want to ensure that our clients don't have to leave home to access our services and ensure continuity of payments," he said.
"We will also be changing some of our processes so that we can prioritise the most important work."
Rickard said contact centre staff have been working long hours to meet the high levels of demand.
"Our staff are working hard to meet demand for our services," he said.
"There are some delays in answering calls and we appreciate everyone's patience and understanding."
- If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs)
Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni was urging people who can use MyMSD online to do so, to free up phone lines for those who can't.
MSD is also making a number of other changes, coming into effect on 30 March, for a six-month period:
- Removing the need to provide subsequent medical certificates for clients already getting Jobseeker Support or Sole Parent Support
- Deferring any Disability Allowance reviews
- Delaying Annual Reviews (including all annual reviews of income, confirming your circumstances (CYC) and annual circumstances letters (ACL), social housing reviews, and life certificates)
- Clearing any Special Benefit expiries or reviews
- Deferring any new obligations failures.
Last week, the government announced a $25 a week increase to benefits, as part of the Covid-19 economic support package.
That will come into effect 1 April.