The load of wet firewood that was delivered to Hakepa Haeata. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

PAM GRAHAM
pam.graham@age.co.nz

Beneficiaries are getting stuck with wet firewood in winter and the system needs a fix.

That’s the view of a man who helps Work and Income NZ clients to budget, and it’s an issue that is frustrating the Masterton mayor.

Work and Income client Hakepa Haeata contacted the Times-Age to say she got a load of wood that had just been delivered, reloaded and removed because it was wet.

She said the most vulnerable in society, the poor, were being taken advantage of.

Grant Howard, manager of the Wairarapa Free Budget Advice Service, says the wider issue is that beneficiaries are turned away by Work and Income when they try to buy dry wood during the summer.

This is denied by Work and Income.

But Howard believes Work and Income tells customers seeking advances for wood in January and February they had sufficient time to save money to buy it.

“They go and apply in May/June and, of course, it is always going to be wet wood, so it’s an endless cycle,” Howard said.

Many wood suppliers in the area contacted last week said they only had wet wood available.

One said demand for wood was increasing and dry wood was selling out earlier each season.

Some backyard operators are selling dry wood on Trade Me, but beneficiaries must buy from registered wood suppliers, Howard said.

“It has been happening for years. I’ve talked to them [Work and Income] about it,” he said.

Katie Brosnahan, the agency’s central region commissioner, says people struggling to make ends meet are encouraged to get in touch.

“There are a number of ways we can support people with purchasing firewood at any time of the year, but it will depend on their individual circumstances,” she said.

They may be able to get an advance on their benefit, recoverable assistance payment, or a special needs grant.

The Government’s new winter energy payment – which is starting next week and in some cases may amount to an extra $30 a week – can also be used to purchase firewood.

It is an automatic payment during winter that helps people getting a benefit, New Zealand Superannuation or a Veteran’s Pension to heat their homes.

Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson said she had identified it as an issue and it had ramifications for air quality, because material that should not be burned was being burned.

“At the end of the day, if you’ve got young children or you want to keep warm, I don’t blame anybody for burning whatever they can to keep warm.

“We need to try to find a resolution of how people on low incomes can have access to firewood when it is dry,” she said.

She said some merchants in Wellington allowed people to pay off the cost of their wood over time.

“That’s one idea that has been floated but I’m not too sure if any of our merchants have that system available.”

She said merchants should not be selling wet wood, “but I understand the dilemma that people are in”.