This is a tricky one folks. Too often we hear about the injustices of the IRD and on occasions we hear sorry tales of law abiding citizens wanting (or committing) suicide as their only way out from onerous debts stacked up willy nilly by a largely uncaring department of Government.
In December 2000 I was serving in the Royal New Zealand Navy and had a massive mental breakdown. I was diagnosed with BiPolar Disorder and Schizophrenia. My wife and children moved out (rightfully so) and I was left with the family house to do up for sale and at the same time started paying child support of over $200 a fortnight, which was fair as this money went into the government coffers and supposedly was passed on to WINZ to help cover my wifes DPB and to help the kids out. I had no issue with this until I found out that WINZ was only paying her $56 a week Child Support. In the back of my mind I always wondered where the extra money went, but that's a side issue.
In March 2002 I was released from the Navy and unable to get a job, thanks to my mental distress, in Auckland. I moved to Foxton, and now on an Invalids benefit. When I moved from Auckland I didn't even have the wherewithal to think about forwarding addresses for mail so basically I moved with a clean slate so to speak. Now I regularly had contact with WINZ in Foxton as I had to go in for reviews for my benefit all the time, and I also secured a casual Posties job so at this stage IRD had record that I was living and working casually in Foxton. Being on the benefit I will admit I didn't pay Child Support as my wage for that year didn't exceed $14,000 per annum and I was still having issues with my mental illness. I lost my job due to another hospitalisation and eventually moved to Palmerston North for support services. Then in late 2004 I received a notice that I owed Child Support (I'm guessing IRD found my current address through Electoral Roll) and they were claiming I owed over $12,000 in Child Support Arrears. This blew me away, almost quite literally. I was left wondering how I could owe so much over two years on the benefit so rang IRD and was told that a large proportion of it was for the 2002/2003 period when I was still in the Navy (and they claimed they had tried to contact me to no avail).
I was flummoxed! I explained that I was on the Invalids for that period and earning less than $15,000 for that period so what justification did IRD have to charge so much. ":Well sir, since we couldn't contact you we assessed that years amount based on the previous year and you have to pay." That was it. I asked the "kind" lady at IRD what I could do to challenge the finding and she told me to go to the local IRD office , get a form to challenge the finding and lodge it in the local court. In the meantime I restarted my Child Support (no I was not a willing avoider) and then mulled over the decision for a year, all the while getting sicker and sicker at the worry. I simply did not have $12,000 and I did not think I owed it. So after another breakdown in June 2005 I mustered the courage, went to the local IRD Office and filed notice to challenge the decision. I received notice from the court some weeks later and had an appearance with a judge which I attended only to find the court bailiff standing at the door telling me IRD had taken into account my circumstances and had ceded that I did in deed not have to pay. WONDERFUL!! NOT!! In his next breath I was told IRD had served notice on my wife (still on benefit due to ill health) and that they were going to bleed her dry. I immediately contacted IRD and told them I did not want that action and that I will pay the debt back at a small amount each week. I also asked them if the debt died with me and they said yes so I now knew I had a millstone around my neck for life. As a consequence of this drama I had another breakdown soon after and luckily avoided suicide. Some don't.
But still not answered for me is how IRD finds people (or doesn't find people). When I initially rang IRD about the debt, I asked them why they hadn't gone to my IRD payments from the period in question from WINZ benefit and from Postie job and was told categorically IRD Tax doesn't talk to IRD Child Support? Yeah I know, incredulous. In fact IRD Child Support and Tax it appeared back then did not even talk to WINZ. How hard would it have been for IRD to internally review and investigate to stop mistakes like this happen in the first place, not to mention ever again? Yes I am still burdened by this anomaly and that's just not utterly fair. But I am lucky. I wear this debt. How many other good fathers and mothers out there are now planted in front of a headstone unable to be a part for their communities and families life?
My message (not only to IRD but all Government Departments) is to remember we vote you in, we pay your wages, you work FOR us, not the other way around.