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Helplines—Social Development and Employment, Minister's Statement

Thursday 25 May 2006 Hansard source (external site)

Collins4. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) Link to this
to the Minister for Social Development and Employment

Does he stand by his statement to the House on Tuesday that “The services provided by the 211 helpline are fundamentally quite different from the citizens advice bureau advice.”?

OkeroaHon MAHARA OKEROA (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment) Link to this

The response to that is a categorical “Yes”. The 211 family helpline line is a centrally based and staffed helpline. The service operates 7 days a week, and 13 hours a day from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. It is supported by a continuously reviewed, updated, and web-based national directory of over 6,000 service providers, and a portal to other websites providing knowledge and information on parenting, family, and social issues. The Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux operates a substantial number of local “shop fronts” accessible by phone from a single 0800 telephone number that automatically directs calls to the nearest branch. Those branches operate independently throughout New Zealand and have different opening hours according to local governance policies, although their base hours are between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

CollinsJudith Collins Link to this

When the Minister said the 211 helpline and citizens advice bureaus were fundamentally different, was he aware that of the Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux’ 600,000 inquiries per year, 60 percent of those are phone inquiries and the Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux itself considers the helpline is a duplication of what it already provides?

OkeroaHon MAHARA OKEROA Link to this

The 211 family helpline services and citizens advice bureaus are very complementary. This is demonstrated by the fact that the 211 family helpline referred 400 calls to the citizens advice bureaus in the pilot period, and the citizens advice bureaus referred 60 calls to the 211 helpline in the same period. The Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux features prominently on the 211 family helpline website.

BEYERGeorgina Beyer Link to this

What reports about support for the 211 family helpline has the Minister seen?

OkeroaHon MAHARA OKEROA Link to this

I have seen an email dated 15 August 2005 from a then Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux chief executive, Nick Toonen, to the Bay of Plenty Citizens Advice Bureau offices stating that the national board “decided that the Association should formally engage in the 211 community helpline, with this engagement developed and tested through our further phase of the helpline pilot. The board noted that this engagement is not likely to include direct involvement in the call centre providing the helpline and that the stats for Rotorua and Tauranga bureaux do not appear to have been adversely affected by the pilot over the March-June period.” This would seem to reinforce the complementary nature of the two services.

CollinsJudith Collins Link to this

If the Minister is aware of the number of phone calls from the Auckland-based 211 helpline to the Rotorua Citizens Advice Bureau asking for advice, why do we not just cut out the middle man and stop this wasteful duplication and give the Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux a bit more money instead?

OkeroaHon MAHARA OKEROA Link to this

Any member who has even the faintest notion of waste or that this service should be scrapped might think it worthwhile to obstruct access to family support services. This Government supports families. A survey of families in the pilot area showed there was a need for the service. Of those surveyed, 93 percent said there was either a very big need or some need for this service. The 211 helpline received 15,918 calls over the pilot period. That was equivalent to an average of a call from one in every four Bay of Plenty families.

CollinsJudith Collins Link to this

I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is there any chance of a translation?

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

That is not a point of order; that is treating the House trivially.

CollinsJudith Collins Link to this

I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Normally, Ministers are supposed to keep their answer succinct and to the point. I think the House has been very indulgent of Mr Okeroa and nobody has given him much of a hard time despite all the ramblings.

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

Of course, questions and answers should be succinct. I do remind the House of that. The question was addressed, however.

BennettPaula Bennett Link to this

Does he stand by his statement that one in every four families has used the 211 helpline; and if he does, why have no families ever called the helpline twice?

OkeroaHon MAHARA OKEROA Link to this

The answer to the first part of the question is yes. The answer to the second part of the question is that the services provided in the first place are quite adequate and we do not need to ring twice.

CollinsJudith Collins Link to this

When I asked the Minister on Tuesday why taxpayers were funding a service where each staff member answers, on average, only three calls per day, and that costs over $50 per call, did he say: “That is not the advice I have.”, when he was the person who supplied those figures in the first place?

OkeroaHon MAHARA OKEROA Link to this

What the Minister said I am unsure of, so I am not in a position to offer the appropriate response.

CollinsJudith Collins Link to this

If the citizens advice bureaus already handle 600,000 inquiries, for Government funding of 805,000 a year—that is, for $1.34 per inquiry—why does the Minister not just give them the money he has wasted on his 211 line and get the bureaux’ hours extended?

OkeroaHon MAHARA OKEROA Link to this

We have tried to impress on that member that there is no waste, and that both of these services are complementary.

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