Was Foster even entitled to an advance?Graham Foster's story in the Sunday Star Timesdoesn't tell the full story. He was refused a Work and Income grant to pay for a $50 pullover and a $140 pair of shoes. Instead he got an advance for the amount which he has to pay back at $3.00 per week. Any advances are supposed to be paid back within a 52 week period. But not this one. Still, Foster spent two years fighting the government through the courts, costing the taxpayer tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.
The Benefit Review Committee decision of 2008 appears to be here, and was itself appealed. (The Court of Appeal's recent decision is here). Foster wanted a lump sum non recoverable payment and reviewed a decision to advance the payment. His excuse for applying for these items was that his old jersey had a hole in it and as he sometimes suffered from mild bronchitis he didn't want to catch a chill. He said he needed to wear specially constructed inner soles and good quality shoes and he said he needed to purchase Hush Puppy shoes " that better fitted the odd contours of my feet".
His budget indicated a deficiency of income over expenditure of $49.98 per week - and budgeted more than $87 a week on food . That's in 2008. We have four in our family and don't even spend double that each week. He also brought the Listener each week instead of reading it at the library for free. Although he wanted free shoes, the Social Security Appeal Authority noted that there is no specific provision in the Special Needs Grant programme for shoes. As Foster admitted that the items were needed due to to wear and tear, this was not an "emergency" as it was not unforseen. Clothes are expected to wear out, eventually. The authority said:
We are surprised to note that the appellant spends [$30 - inserted] per week on communication, apparently for cellphone, internet and fixed line charges. This seems particularly high for someone sharing accommodation. The appellant has not explained what his need for a cellphone might be. An allowance of $15.00 per week ought to be sufficient for telecommunications. We also have questions about the appellant's allowance for transport, optometrist and newspapers. It is surprising that the appellant can afford to buy the Listener and pay for an internet connection but cannot budget for [shoes]. We are not convinced that the appellant has a deficiency in his budget of $49.98 per week. We accept that the appellant's budget is tight but we consider that the appellant could have been expected to make provision for [shoes] in his budget.We are not satisfied on the basis of the evidence available that an emergency situation existed in this instanceBut they did think it was fine for him to get an advance payment, even though he was able to make provision for it. In other words, the Committee considered that as Foster had an "immediate and essential need" he should be given a loan for the shoes and jersey, even though no emergency situation existed, and WINZ had no idea if he needed them because they apparently didn't ask if he had other jerseys and shoes he could wear.
So how did they know that Foster had an immediate and essential need?