27 Mar 2014

Rise in calls to IRD from student debtors

7:10 am on 27 March 2014

Rule changes allowing the arrest of student loan debtors have prompted a rise in the number of calls to the Inland Revenue Department.

From Monday, 1 April, the department will be able seek arrest warrants for people who live overseas and are badly behind on their loan repayments.

Also from that date: the amount that overseas-based borrowers who owe more than $45,000 must repay each year increases from $3000 to $4000, and to $5000 if their loan is greater than $60,000.

Revenue Minister Todd McClay says borrowers began reacting to the changes soon after Parliament passed the relevant legislation earlier this month.

"Between 7 February and 6 March of this year, IRD got about 74 calls each day around student loans. When the law was passed and publicised, this number increased to 125 calls per day between 7-25 March."

Mr McClay said the increased number of phone calls shows publicity about the changes is paying off.

"People who owe money are more aware of their obligation and also the potential consequences of not meeting that obligation to the taxpayer, so they're ringing up, getting in touch to find out what's going on and in many cases making arrangements to start paying their arrears and their student loan to the taxpayer."

Mr McClay said about 110,000 student loan debtors live overseas and 61,000 are in arrears by a combined total of nearly $500 million.

But Union of Students Associations president Daniel Haines says the Government is chasing student loan debtors the wrong way.

"Our concern is the system itself encourages this culture of fear, where they're afraid to return to New Zealand and we lose both the economic investment that was made in them and the cultural diversity that they've been exposed to by living overseas."

Mr Haines said a lot of overseas debtors have dual citizenship and will be able to avoid arrest.

"Forty percent of them are eligible for a passport under a different country, so if they return to New Zealand with an Australian or a British passport, we're not able to identify that those students are the same students that we have from New Zealand and therefore they're totally lost within the scheme.

But Mr McClay said arrest warrants are very much a last resort and he expects the changes will result in repayments that would not otherwise have happened.