Budget adviser refuses to send client information to government

The coordinator of a South Canterbury budget advisory service is taking a strong stand against a new government policy of collecting and sharing personal data by refusing to disclose customer information.

Timaru Budget Advisory Trust coordinator Don Macfarlane said the trust could lose up to 80% of its funding from the Department of Social Development (MSD) if it did not disclose client information as required by a newly signed government contract.

“Yes [the ministry] wants debt data, public net numbers… we can give them anything now, but we’re not giving names, ”Macfarlane said.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said the data collection was not aimed at profiling people.


Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said the data collection was not aimed at profiling people.

Describing the collection and sharing of clients’ personal information as “unethical,” Macfarlane said he could see similarities to the totalitarian policies of “Big Brother” in the dystopian novel. 1984.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley disputed this, saying the data collection was not aimed at profiling people.

“We need this information to better understand the services people need and use,” said Tolley.

The personal data of anyone who sought help from a government-funded community support agency would be sent to MSD under the new rules.

The ministry would collect the name, date of birth, address, gender, ethnicity, iwi and country of birth as well as the number of children and date of birth of a customer.

It also required details of the services consulted, including the name of the program or service, the referral source, and the start and end date.

Many community organizations were already operating under new government funding contracts, which required them to provide this information and allowed it to be shared with other agencies as of July 1.

When asked if the information could affect funding or be used to create risk profiles, Tolley did not respond.

However, she said the data would allow the government to target funding on services that “New Zealanders find most beneficial and are actually delivering results.”

Labor community and voluntary sector spokesperson Poto Williams said she was concerned the information could be used to monitor the costs created by people in the social support system and create risk profiles for them. people, which could limit the help they could receive by placing a “glass” of funding. ceiling “on them.

Macfarlane said the introduction of data collection at the level of individual clients meant that a single visit to a service, such as the women’s shelter, would be recorded and the information would be sent to MSD.

The only clients he was comfortable disclosing information to MSD about, with his client’s permission, were those referred by Work and Income because the government already had most of their information on file, he said. -he declares.

Work and Income referrals made up only 20% of the trust’s customer base, which meant it was at risk of losing funding for 80% of the customers, he said.

The organization signed a one-year contract for $ 125,000 late last year, after budgeting departments had to bid on new contracts in October.

Previously, he had a three-year contract for $ 85,000 per year, which was due to expire in June 2017, but the ministry decided to “wipe them out” sooner, he said.

But that figure could drop to $ 100,000 if Confidence continues to take a firm stance on policy, he said.

Over the past six months, 231 new client families have requested help from the budget council.

On its website, the MSD states that the information collected was used in an “unidentifiable” manner for analysis and research.

Since July 1, it indicates that the information will be used on “an identifiable basis for specific purposes”.

People were already discouraged from going to support services after learning about the ministry’s data collection, he said.

“There is widespread mistrust. How do you know the information is safe? Where are they stored? “

He had complained to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, which was investigating the case and was due to issue its findings at the end of March.

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