5 May 2015

Shrinking WINZ dental loans

5:40 am on 5 May 2015

Work and Income's decision to stop loans for emergency dental work could send beneficiaries to loan sharks, an advocate says.

A baby boomer dentistry tsunami is on its way a report says.

Photo: 123RF

Work and Income gives $300 special needs grants for emergency dental treatment for beneficiaries and those on low incomes. If that was not enough to cover the work, the agency until recently gave small advances on benefits.

An Official Information Act request has revealed Work and Income is no longer providing beneficiaries with an advance.

Beneficiaries advocate Kay Brereton said the need for dental work had not gone away.

"It's worrying that there's people out there whose health is getting worse. There's got to be a lot of people out there who are living with pain and eating on one side of their mouth. That's the kind of thing that I've encountered, before they [WINZ] said that we don't do this anymore."

In the 2010/11 financial year, Work and Income loaned $9,398,451 to beneficiaries for emergency dental work. Over the past year that figure was slashed to $45,100, official documents showed.

Ms Brereton does not think there has been any specific changes to policy, except Government pressure on Work and Income to shrink beneficiary debt.

She said when WINZ got mean, beneficiaries were forced to go loan sharks and financial companies for money.

Dental Association chief executive David Crum said some beneficiaries required quite extensive work. He said they could only ignore a toothache for so long.

"Particularly when you get an infection or pain, that changes the picture dramatically," he said.

Dr Crum guessed beneficiaries were organising time payments with their dentist or were getting the funding from somewhere else.

A Work and Income spokesperson said the overall total reduction in numbers in all forms of emergency dental assistance each year was consistent with falling benefit numbers and downward trends in hardship assistance.

Labour Party health spokesperson Annette King said it was all about the Government screwing down costs.

"They made a decision some years ago to tighten up on assistance to people who go to Work and Income and this is the results of it," she said.

Emergency pain relief and extractions are available through the public health system for low income earners but at most public hospitals that is limited to one tooth extraction for $40.