Research into debt held by New Zealanders to government published


The Social Wellbeing Agency has today published two research reports that create a picture of the nature of debt held by New Zealanders to government.

The Social Wellbeing Agency analysed data in the Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI) looking at people that hold debt to the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), Ministry of Justice (MoJ), and Inland Revenue (IR), or to two or all of these agencies. The reports, Patterns across debt and debtors to government, and Understanding debt and debtors to government (working paper), conclude that:

  • A total of 762,460 New Zealand residents owe $4.68 billion of combined debt to MSD, IR and MoJ, as at September 2020.
  • Of these people, more than a quarter (28%) owe debt to two or more agencies, and 6 percent owe debt to all three.
  • The distribution of debt is skewed: Almost half of debtors owe less than $1000, and fewer than 15 percent owe more than $10,000.
  • There are significant differences in the demographic characteristics of people with different types of debt - for instance, males are over represented among people with income tax debt, liable parent child support debt to IR, and with fines debt to MoJ. Females are over represented among people with benefit overpayment and recoverable assistance debt to MSD, and with Working for Families overpayment debt to IR.
  • People's debt to the government shows significant persistence. We observed upwards of 70 percent of debtors being in debt for more than twelve months.

This work has been delivered by the Social Wellbeing Agency to a cross-sector group of government agencies considering the issues debt to government can cause, and ways the impact of this debt on people in hardship can be reduced.

The working paper and report can be found here.

The Social Wellbeing Agency works for the social sector. We use data and insights to help Government and the social sector improve the lives of New Zealanders.

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