Ka tautoko mātou i a ngā iwi katoa o Aotearoa i te KOWHEORI-19 We supported New Zealanders through COVID-19

During this year New Zealanders experienced several periods of elevated COVID-19 alert levels. Throughout the COVID-19 emergency we have been classed as an essential service and so we have continued to operate. While we have had to temporarily close service centres from time to time, clients have still been able to contact us by phone or digital channels to make enquiries, apply for assistance or supply information.

There was a sharp rise in demand for our services

We again provided support to more people than usual this year, although benefit demand increased more slowly than we were expecting.

In a typical year we provide services directly to between 1 and 1.5 million New Zealanders and their families. Since the first COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020 this figure has been much higher, largely as a result of COVID-19-specific programmes of assistance. However, we also experienced a sharp rise in the number of people seeking benefits (particularly Jobseeker Support) and housing assistance, and the number of students approaching StudyLink for help with course fees and living allowances also increased significantly. A significant proportion of the additional demand came from people who had never before found it necessary to seek assistance from the welfare system.

People Receiving NZ Superannuation

Year Number
30 June 2019 More than 781,000
30 June 2020 More than 809,000
30 June 2021 Nearly 838,000

People receiving benefits

Year Number
30 June 2019 Nearly 292,000
30 June 2020 More than 809,000
30 June 2021 Nearly 355,000

Student Loan and Allowance applications processed

Year Number
2018/19 311,000
2019/20 Nearly 309,000
2020/21 324,600

Value and number of hardship grants

Year Value and number
2018/19 More than $480 million (nearly 17.7 million grants)
2019/20 More than $723 million (more than 2.5 million grants)
2020/21 Nearly $858 million (nearly 2.5 million grants)

Households on the Public Housing Register

Year Number
30 June 2019 Nearly 14,900
30 June 2020 Almost 21,900
30 June 2021 More than 29,000

Working-age benefits cancelled because people got work 

Year Number
2018/19 Around 70,200
2019/20 Around 74,700
2020/21 Around 113,400

People accessing community support services 

Year Number
2019/20 95,859
2020/21 83,736

While the amount we paid to New Zealanders in financial assistance in 2020/21, at just over $30 billion, was lower than in 2019/20 ($37 billion), it was still well above the historical level of around $20 billion. The 2020/21 figure includes $1.7 billion paid under COVID-19-related assistance programmes .

We expected COVID-19 to precipitate a significant and long-lasting increase in benefit numbers. Although this expected increase did eventuate, it was less significant than was being forecast as the 2020/21 year began. The number of Jobseeker Support recipients rose from 152,000 in June 2020 to a peak of just over 213,000 in January 2021 before falling back to around 152,000 in June 2021 – almost exactly the same as the June 2020 figure.

Successive forecasts made during the year lowered the expected peak for benefit numbers (from 10.4 percent of the working-age population in January 2021 to 7.1 percent in January 2022 ). While current forecasts suggest that overall working-age benefit numbers will continue to increase over 2021, they should slowly fall back thereafter as the economy recovers and border restrictions are lifted.

We expect an ongoing increase in the diversity and needs of our clients in the future. While benefit numbers are likely to fall as the economy recovers, those who will still require our support are likely to have more complex needs than ever before. We will need to ensure we have systems and processes that are fit for this expected environment.

Working with partners to support communities through COVID-19

The Government invested significantly in community and social sector services over the last year, acknowledging the impact of COVID-19 on communities, social service providers and NGOs. Through the Budget 2020 COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund, we were allocated funding to support NGOs, community groups, hapū and iwi to respond to and recover from the social and economic impacts of COVID-19. This funding has made it possible for us to:

  • approve 138 grants to organisations that support disabled people during lockdowns and related periods of self-isolation
  • approve over 2,500 grants to community groups supporting Māori, Pacific and ethnic communities
  • provide 330 grants to support providers delivering family and sexual violence crisis response services who experienced increased demand due to COVID-19
  • temporarily increase funding to 131 providers of Building Financial Capability services experiencing increased demand
  • provide 266 grants to foodbanks and community food services to help them meet increased demand due to COVID-19
  • provide 49 grants to community groups to develop and implement plans to support their community to become food secure
  • support the joint work programmes with Te Hiku and Ngāi Tūhoe iwi
  • pilot the Employment Service in Schools  programme to support secondary school students with a disability or health condition in five regions in partnership with the Ministry of Education
  • allocate funding to providers of specialist debt solution services while further work is progressed through the Safer Credit and Financial Inclusion Strategy .


  1. In 2019/20 COVID-19-related payments exceeded $12 billion in total. Excluding COVID payments such as Wage Subsidies, total welfare assistance increased from $25.3 billion to $28.5 billion this year.

  2. These included the Budget Economic and Fiscal Update (BEFU) in May 2020, the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update in September 2020, the Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update in December 2020, and BEFU 2021 in May 2021.

  3. Jobseeker Support, forecast in BEFU 2020.

  4. Jobseeker Support, forecast in BEFU 2021.

  5. These high-trust grants have been supported with funding from the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund through E Tū Whānau and Pasefika Proud relationships, the Community Awareness and Preparedness Grant Fund and the Community Capability and Resilience Fund.

  6. See https://www.workandincome.govt.nz/work/health-and-disability-job-support/employment-service-in-schools.html

  7. See https://www.msd.govt.nz/what-we-can-do/providers/building-financial-capability/safer-credit-and-financial-inclusion/index.html