Juggling your finances is a big part of being a solo or single parent. We discuss WINZ, benefits, subsidies and budget advice here.
Paula Thompson spent much of last winter with a scarf wrapped around her nose and mouth – inside the house. The cold Dunedin temperatures were making her asthma worse; and trips to the doctor and paying for inhalers had put her credit card into the red.
“I just about went over the edge, not sleeping at night, worrying about how on earth I was going to pay for it all,” says the 27-year-old single parent. “We were already stretched to the max, on a very low income, and I just couldn’t afford the medical treatment.”
Then, when her regular doctor was away one day, she saw a locum who said she should have been getting a disability allowance to help pay for extra heating and medication.
“I couldn’t believe I didn’t know about it. I suffered needless stress.”
Emma Day, a single mother from Papamoa, felt the same way when she found out the Ministry of Health would pay for her son’s prescription glasses.
“It’s not a WINZ thing so no one told me about it.”
Indeed, finding out about the Spectacle Subsidy for Children Under Eight, as the scheme is called, is difficult. The first optometrist I called had never heard of it, the second knew about it but couldn’t tell me who ran it. Third time lucky: it turns out the scheme is administered by Enable New Zealand, under contract to the Ministry of Health.
Basically, if you have a family community services card (or your child has an individual one) or you have a high health-user card, then you are entitled to $281 per year for your under-eight’s glasses. It can also be used for optometrist or eye specialist fees. No prior approval necessary, no need to pay it back.
When it comes to financial help, what you don’t know about, you won’t get. A budget advice centre will help you find out about allowances you’re entitled to as well as give you regular, free help running a budget. Staff can also give out vouchers for the food bank, negotiate with banks and creditors and write letters of support to Work and Income NZ if you need to apply for extra funds.
Let’s say the fridge gives up the ghost, you suddenly need $400 worth of dental treatment or Aunty Betty wants her lounge suite back. It’s worth knowing there are four different ways to get extra money through WINZ, whether you are on a benefit or not.
The ‘disability allowance’ is what Paula Thompson was given to warm her house and pay for inhalers. It can also help with doctor’s fees, health-related travel costs and clothing. The word ‘disability’ is perhaps why many people don’t realise they qualify for this allowance – it’s actually for any ongoing health condition which costs you money.
A ‘special needs grant’ is a one-off, non-recoverable payment for immediate essentials such as food, bedding and emergency medical care. The maximum amount for dental work is $300 per year. If you need a special needs grant for food, then you may have to prove you have no other cash.
If you just can’t make ends meet, it’s worth applying for ‘temporary additional support.’ This is a weekly top-up to help meet your living costs. The costs concerned must be essential (chocolate doesn’t count) and you must have no other way of getting the money.
Finally, an ‘advance payment’ is just that – money you have to pay back later, for things like appliances, school uniforms or rent.
Decisions about all WINZ allowances are made on an individual basis. Special conditions usually apply – and generally you won’t qualify if you have cash assets over about $1450. Don’t forget that this sort of information changes like the weather in Auckland, so do check it out for yourself as figures and conditions may have altered.
Freebies and cheapies
OK, so there are no free lunches, but there are a surprising number of cheaper-than-you-thought options around. For example, did you know you can get nappy cream, liquid paracetamol and vitamins B & C on prescription? Much cheaper than buying at the chemist. And I bet you didn’t know about this one: some op shops have funds they can dispense at their discretion (don’t all rush at once).
For free legal advice, check out your local Citizens Advice Bureau. At the Tauranga branch, for example, you can see a lawyer for ten minutes free-of-charge on a Monday night – so you can at least find out what to do next. And legal aid is available for all manner of civil and criminal cases, just remember you may have to pay it back later.
Free relationship counselling is available for problems with your ex, which can be helpful for access or upbringing issues. You get six free sessions at Relationship Services by applying to the Family Court.
Want to do some study? Well, if you’re on a benefit you can get up to $3,528 per year to cover fees, textbooks, transport costs or childcare.
The list goes on. There is help out there if you know where to look.
Citizens Advice Bureau
The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) is always a great help in finding local support services for families, including budgetary advisers. Read more about them in our article on Citizens Advice Bureau.
The Wise Money Foundation is a community organisation in NZ that exists for the purpose of educating people with wise financial principles. The Wise Money Foundation is not just about making budgets, instead they empower people to really make a difference with their finances and change the quality of their lives.
Read more about this great organisation in our article on Wise Money.