4 Sep 2020

Woman unable to receive Covid relief due to casual work

12:57 pm on 4 September 2020

A Nelson woman is furious with Work and Income that her efforts to support herself while being made redundant because of Covid-19 have left her financially worse off.

Kate Cooper was unable to access the Covid relief payment as she was working casually.

Kate Cooper was unable to access the Covid relief payment as she was working casually. Photo: Supplied

Kate Cooper was working full time as a receptionist when the financial fallout from the pandemic started to bite.

She agreed to cut back her hours and picked up some casual shifts at a cafe to fill the gap.

When she made redundant from the reception job, and her casual hospo shifts dried up, she applied to Work and Income for the Covid relief payment.

But was told she did not qualify because she was technically still employed by the cafe.

"It makes me really angry because it is just so unjustified.

"I'm a very hard worker and I'm trying my best to do what I can and make the best out of these really awful times but it's just making everything so much more difficult."

The Covid relief payment - which starts at $450 a week - is roughly double the jobseeker benefit, and Cooper says will struggle to make ends meet.

When she asked Work and Income if she could just get the cafe to cancel her contract she was told this would be "falsifying documents".

Cooper said she never would have taken the second job if she knew the consequences and was appealing WINZ's decision.

"It [just] massively puts you off seeking any type of employment that isn't full time, because at the end of the day you're not going to benefit from it.

"I think it just needs to be more realistic."

She said people living in smaller centres would be particularly hard hit by the rules.

"We do generally work than one job to make up a full wage, Nelson in particular is such an odd place for work anyway - there's mostly only part time, it's very seasonal.

"It was tricky enough before Covid to find full-time employment."

Gerard Hehir from the Unite Union said he has dealt with many furious people in the same situation as Cooper.

"They were extremely disappointed and upset that they were being punished for actually going out and finding work when they had been made redundant.

About 90 percent of the roughly 11,000 who left the workforce between April and June were women - they are more likely to have jobs in industries that employ people part time like hospitality and tourism.

Hehir said the system did not reflect the reality of people's lives.

"The problem is the policy itself is poorly designed for the people who are most affected."

Craig Churchill from the Ministry of Social Development said people cannot get the Covid relief payment if they get another job - even if it is just short-term temporary work.

He said that was because the temporary work came to its "natural" end rather than being lost due to the impacts of Covid-19.

"People working part-time may be able to access a main benefit while working. This may be more financially advantageous than the income relief payment."

Nearly 23,000 people are getting the Covid-19 income relief payment.

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