IT glitch forcing families to food banks - advocate

6:52 am on 11 March 2016

Families who have run out of money for food have been forced to go to foodbanks because of a computer failure at Work and Income means they are not able to get grants, an Auckland budget advisor says.

A new system that was rolled out on Monday morning was not able to cope with the number of people trying to access it, forcing staff to process some data manually.

Volunteers sort food at the City Mission

One-off food grants have been disrupted by an IT roll-out at WINZ. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

It has caused delays for people trying to get benefits and Mangere Budgeting Services Trust chief executive Darryl Evans said it had been difficult getting food grants approved.

He said they were normally processed and approved on the same day but the IT failure had forced families to find food elsewhere.

"They'll either not get their grant from Work and Income or, what I'm hearing, is that Work and Income case managers are simply referring them to food banks," he said.

The Mangere Budgeting Services Trust has a food bank of its own and Mr Evans said he had seen more people there this week.

"We've definitely seen a higher number than usual, and again they're telling us it's because they haven't been able to get a grant from MSD."

Work and Income is part of the Ministry of Social Development (MSD).

It accepted it was taking longer than usual to process applications but that people who called for help were only on hold for an average of 25 minutes.

Mr Evans said it was worse than that.

"One of the staff budget advisors told me she waited for 59 minutes and eventually hung up," he said.

But MSD deputy chief executive service delivery Ruth Bound said payments were not affected and applications were being processed.

"We have had services available all week, we've just had to go to some more manual processes as we've been fixing the system," she said.

"Once they got through to us we'd be able to process their application, so it's mainly related to the time they'd have to wait to speak to us rather than a processing delay."

Ms Bound apologised for any inconvenience caused.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said the system was back working at "90 percent".

"Everyone's been paid, but where they may have made some adjustments to their hours, with seasonal work etcetera, some of that may have not gone through this week," she said.

Mrs Tolley said in the long run, the new system would benefit its clients.

"Rather than talking to someone who is filling in 4, 5, maybe 6 screens of information, they will just be dealing with one screen and be able to spend more time with the client."

Labour Party social development spokesperson Carmel Sepuloni said the minister was playing down the IT failure.

She said Work and Income staff complained to her that the problems were far bigger than expected, and in some cases, files had not been transferred over.

"They're serious problems. In terms of the emergency grants when it comes to food grants or housing, they need to be done on the spot. There's no time for lapses in service like this.

"So it should've been thought out a lot more before the minister and ministry proceeded with the implementation of this flawed system."

MSD said it hoped to have all its systems up and running again today and the backlog cleared by the end of next week.