Co-habiting Peters billed $18,000
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters took higher superannuation payments than he was entitled to for seven years - while living with his de facto partner - and has been required to pay back $18,000 to the state.
Peters filled out forms when he turned 65 that qualified him for the single person's superannuation rate, which is about $60 a week higher in this case than a person would receive if declared to be living with a partner, which he was.
Why he didn't put the error right until last month will be the subject of intense political examination four weeks out from the general election and in a campaign period that has already claimed three party leaders: Andrew Little, Metiria Turei, and Peter Dunne.
The Labour Party made clear it could not have Turei, who took benefits greater than she was entitled to, serve in a future coalition cabinet. Peters and New Zealand First are potential Labour allies.
Peters and partner Jan Trotman live together in a dress circle, $2.65 million St Mary's Bay home. Her application, on turning 65, for superannuation is said to have brought the discrepancy to the Ministry of Social Development's attention. Newsroom understands Trotman had to say if she was single, married or in a de facto relationship. The information was cross-referenced and Peters' lack of entitlement to the sum he was receiving was discovered.
It is not clear why that higher figure was not noticed - by Peters - over all seven years, given his deep knowledge of and commitment to superannuation.
Peters, 72, is the self-proclaimed friend of superannuitants, his party historically backed by Grey Power. It has a bottom line policy to protect superannuation at 65 years for all.
The MP last night issued a pre-buttal statement claiming his personal gold card bonus was an administrative error - after questions from Newshub, a news organisation provided with information about the Peters case from within a concerned public service apparatus.
Peters' repayment occurred on July 14, two days before former Greens co-leader Metiria Turei revealed to her party conference that she had knowingly taken higher welfare payments than justified years ago when on the Domestic Purposes Benefit.
Turei met MSD officers about her overpayment and pledged to pay back any sum that she owed. Results of that inquiry have not been announced.
She resigned from the co-leadership after a political, public and media outcry over her implicit support for current benefit cheats, and further questions about her residential status when voting in past elections.
Peters was tellingly muted in his comments on the Turei affair.
The veteran MP's statement last night, which emphasised his surprise and rapid repayment, followed on-record statements to Newshub on Saturday which appeared to challenge the channel to broadcast the news of his overpayment and carefully said he did not owe anyone anything.
It is expected Peters will be pressured to waive his privacy rights and ask the Ministry to release the details of his application, the overpayments, and the correspondence that ensued once the issue was raised.
MSD forms make it clear that if an applicant is living with someone they must declare that person's details.
The current website information page says, under the heading Relationships and Superannuation:
"We need to know if you have a partner and some information about them, even if they are not being included in your NZ Super. This is so we can pay the right rate and work out whether your partner may be entitled to an overseas pension which could affect your rate of payment.
A partner is your husband or wife, your civil union partner, or a person of the same or opposite sex with whom you have a de facto relationship.
A de facto relationship is a relationship between two people who are:
- committed to each other emotionally
- financially interdependent and
- not legally married or in a civil union, but are living in the nature of marriage or civil union.
If your partner doesn’t qualify for their own New Zealand Superannuation you may want to include them, eg if they're under 65 and financially dependent on you. If your partner is included, your NZ Super becomes income tested and you both receive payments. Any income that either you or your partner receive, including any overseas pension that you or your partner may be entitled to, could affect how much we pay you."
“Like the Ministry I believed the matter had been put to rest."
The Peters statement said:
"Some media contacts have called to alert me about a possible story about superannuation.
“From what I can glean it is about the following: In early 2010 I applied for superannuation, in the company of my partner, and in the presence of a senior official at the Ministry of Social Development.
“In July of this year, I was astonished to receive a letter from the Ministry to advise there was an error in my superannuation allowance and a request that I meet with them.
“I immediately contacted and met the area manager of MSD.
“It was unclear on both sides how the error had occurred leading to a small fortnightly overpayment.
“Suffice to say, we agreed there had been an error.
· Within 24 hours the error and overpayment had been corrected by me.
· I subsequently received a letter from the area manager thanking me for my prompt attention and confirming that the matter was concluded to the Ministry’s satisfaction.
“I am grateful to the Ministry for their courtesy and the professional and understanding way they handled this error.
“Like the Ministry I believed the matter had been put to rest."
But it hadn't. Despite their institutional courtesy, public servants troubled by the passive receipt of over-payments sounded concerns.
Newshub put questions to Peters on Saturday about the matter and he predictably responded with eight minutes of vague political duelling. Last night's statement was clearly in response to mounting speculation about the issue.
In 2008, Peters and his party were ejected from Parliament by voters after he denied receiving funds from millionaire Owen Glenn but was chastised by Parliament's Privileges Committee which heard evidence directly contradictory to Peters' infamous "No" sign that he held up at a press conference.
He was out of Parliament and without a parliamentary salary in 2010 when he applied for his superannuation.
Peters has been an MP, on and off, for 33 of the past 39 years. His current salary, as a leader of a minor party with NZ First's eight further MPs is close to $195,000 a year, before allowances.
Trotman is listed on her LinkedIn profile page as a company director at MicroMed Healthcare Ltd.
A Stuff story about the couple in 2011 said:
"Peters has an enviable life. He and his glamorous and successful partner, Jan Trotman, the former managing director of pharmaceuticals company Janssen-Cilag, live in a beautiful house in St Marys Bay, Auckland, with their chocolate labrador, Bella. The three-level home, which boasts a swim-jet pool and bar facilities, was bought for $2.25 million in 2008 and has expansive views of Waitemata Harbour."