First refitted Work and Income office opens in Ōtara

7:23 pm on 14 December 2018

The first Work and Income office to have its security fully upgraded in the aftermath of the 2014 Ashburton shooting is open for business.

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The refitted Work and Income office in Ōtara. Photo: RNZ / Sarah Robson

MSD was charged in the Wellington District Court after the fatal shooting of two staff members at its Ashburton office by Russell Tully in September 2014.

The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) was convicted for breaching health and safety laws after the fatal shooting of two staff members at its Ashburton office by Russell Tully in September 2014.

An independent review highlighted the need for stronger security at all Work and Income offices.

Since then, MSD has been planning and trailing different designs, layouts and office features to make the workplaces safer.

The Ōtara office, in South Auckland, is the first to be fully refitted.

As you walk in, you're greeted by two friendly security guards.

Inside, there's a big reception desk straight ahead. Over to the left, there's a water cooler and bathrooms for clients to use.

To the right, computer stations and a play area for children.

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The new Ōtara office. Photo: RNZ / Sarah Robson

The furniture is new and brightly coloured, and there are plants dotted around the open plan office.

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni said these are a just a few of the simple changes they're making to make Work and Income a nicer place to visit.

"I've always felt that if people like this as a warm and welcoming environment, then you're less likely to have someone's behaviour escalate in a negative way," she said.

"The starting point has to be is this place safe for staff and clients, is it a positive and welcoming environment for staff and clients, and that has been our focus."

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This is what the Ōtara Work and Income office looked like before the makeover. Photo: RNZ / Sarah Robson

In the main office area, where case managers meet with clients, desks are lined up on each side of the room.

MSD deputy chief executive Viv Rickard said curved wooden panelling at each desk is designed to give clients more privacy.

"They've asked for that, it's been really important to them. They didn't want to be seen by everybody when they walk in, when they're having a conversation about some quite personal circumstances it's not going to be overheard by everyone."

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Another picture of the Ōtara office prior to the refit. Photo: RNZ / Sarah Robson

There are no screens separating staff from clients, but Viv Rickard said there are other subtle design features to give greater security.

A single bar runs across the top of the desk.

"It's open but it does have some features so if someone wanted to jump over, it's just harder to jump over and do something to our staff."

Mr Rickard said the majority of issues they deal with are threats to staff and a few physical assaults.

Kathleen Paraha from Auckland Action Against Poverty said the makeover will impress some people.

She said changes to make clients feel like they have more privacy when they're talking to their case manager are especially important.

"That'll go a long way because a lot of people don't like discussing their problems in the open where everybody else can hear it."

But Ms Paraha said new furniture and spruced up offices won't fix everything at Work and Income.

"I still think, is that going to give people what they're entitled to? It's not the changes that are going to do it, it's the case managers."

Ms Sepuloni hoped the changes will be rolled out to all of the Ministry of Social Development's 120 offices by 2020.

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