14 Jan 2020

Disability body saddled with ringfenced fund by Ministry of Health

2:12 pm on 14 January 2020

This story has been updated to clarify points raised by Manawanui Support.

Manawanui Support, which Bill English bought in March last year, has a contingency fund that the company says it can only use with Ministry of Health approval. 

Close-up Of Disabled Man Sitting On Wheelchair

Photo: 123RF

But disability advocate Jane Carrigan is questioning why the company is sitting on the fund, when she is having to fight for every cent for those with disabilities.

Manawanui Support said the money was recorded on the new company's books as potentially being repayable, rather than as an asset, because the ministry could ask for it back. 

Manawanui Support is investing the interest on that money, but the ministry said it was not spending those returns. 

Manawanui Support provides Ministry of Health services to 3588 disabled people, by managing the funding they receive to employ carers who assist with things like showering and preparing meals.

The company gets $550 every time a new client signs up, as well as a monthly management fee of $75.

When the scheme was first set up, some disabled people were paid upfront, but in the early 2000s the Ministry of Health moved to a system where people were instead reimbursed for their costs.

Carrigan said at the time, the ministry asked people to return any money they had not spent.

"To say to 'people you haven't spent your money, you cannot roll it over, we'd like it back thank you very much'. So classic example of shifting the goal posts, once people think they're getting a certain type of funding and then saying, 'No, it's not for that, we want the money back'," she said.

Ministry of Health documents show since 2010, $650,000 from the fund has sat with Manawanui in Charge - the company which became Manawanui Support Ltd when it sold in March 2019.

Manawanui in Charge didn't spend the money when it was sold to Mr English, but rather $526,434 was transferred over to Manawanui Support. 

Carrigan described this as a slap in the face for families.

"All we ever hear about at the bottom end of the disability spectrum is how the Ministry of Health doesn't have any money, that it's not a bottomless pit of money," she said.

"Now we get very little bit of money down at this end. The money tends to be discharged in other areas, not to mention a plethora of policy analysts all sitting comfortable in Wellington."

In 2013, Manawanui in Charge also set up a new company to manage the Funded Family Care programme, which allows a disabled person to employ a parent on minimum wage.

Funding Advisory Support Services (FASS) is responsible for working with the disabled person to explain how the Funded Family Care works and ensure the money they receive is spent properly. It's been paid $546,244 since Funded Family Care was set up.

But Carrigan also questioned whether that was a good use of public money.

"Now that's half a million dollars for just over 450 people and I can tell you the amount of support you get used to be very good, simply because the people who ran it at the time. But certainly not worth a little over $1000, that's effectively what it works out at," she said.

Manawanui Support said FASS provided significant up-front advice and support working with families to understand their obligations under Funded Family Care, and establishing the arrangements including follow-up support.

It said the Ministry of Health inspected and approved all the invoices the company submitted each month for the costs associated with Funded Family Care.

The ministry said the funding arrangements have been transparent at all times, including through the change of ownership. It said Manawanui has been audited eight times, the last in March 2017.

Manawanui Support said it would be making no changes to staff or fees as a result of the change of ownership.

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