Government agencies may be working overtime to get wage subsidies to people during lockdown but many are still in the dark over what they are entitled to and when they will get it.

Gavin Somers runs a fishing charter company in Auckland’s Waitematā Harbour.

His business, Snapper Fishing Charters, started dwindling about a month before the lockdown was announced, and now it is on ice.

The father of five applied for the wage subsidy on 19 March to make sure he could pay his staff – three people, including himself.

But he has heard nothing back.

He has been calling the 0800 number for help daily since 23 March, but every time he does, an automated response tells him the line is too busy and hangs up.

So he has applied again, and still, he has heard nothing.

“There isn’t even a confirmation email, so you’re just left in limbo, whether they’ve got it or not, if they are working on it. We’re sitting here struggling. We really are struggling,” he said.

Somers said the family had run out of money and were having to borrow from friends and family to keep themselves, and his staff, afloat.

On top of this, Westhaven Marina, run by Auckland Council’s Panuku Development, was still charging them nearly $1500 in rent a month and would not offer a rent holiday, he said.

The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) said delays to payouts could happen when applications did not match up to Inland Revenue’s records.

However, Somers said his business was not complicated and was squeaky clean.

“It’s a legitimate business, it’s been around for a long time, it has 20,000 followers on Facebook, it’s one of the more well-known charter boats in the region and it’s like we don’t exist. I don’t know what’s going on.”

Mark Van Roosmalen, who owns a suit tailoring business in Christchurch, The Suit Doctor, also applied for a wage subsidy on 19 March and is yet to hear back.

“If they can prop up Fonterra and Spark and Air New Zealand to boot … that’s great, they’re losing their jobs but I’m trying not to lose my business,” he said.

He said he was extremely financially precarious and getting some money was urgent.

There is also a lot of confusion over who is entitled to what.

One healthcare worker, who wishes to go by Mary, said her medical practice was closed and her employer was making her use annual leave.

When she asked her employer if the practice was eligible for the wage subsidy, her employer said no, because they were essential workers.

She told her employer she did not want to use her annual leave for the lockdown because she did not think it was fair or right.

Mary struggled to get further information.

“Where do I go for my question? Am I supposed to just believe my employer?”

The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment has clarified to RNZ that essential services are able to apply for the wage subsidy as long as they meet all the criteria.

MSD said the majority of payments had been delivered within five days, and some in much shorter periods.

It said phone lines were inundated with people applying for the wage subsidy and benefits – with 75,000 calls between Tuesday and Friday last week.

The government has spent $3.7 billion on wage subsidies for 580,000 employees.

A film production worker, Te Takuta, was one of those.

His work requires travel throughout the country and has of course dried up, but within a few days of applying he was given $4200.

“To receive some funds out of the government at a time like this and to have it delivered in such a straightforward, uncomplicated manner, was unbelievable and incredibly humbling. So, thanks government,” he said.

Te Takuta said he had heard of businesses feeling shy about applying for the wage subsidy, but added that it was a simple exercise and people should go for it.

This article was originally published on RNZ and re-published with permission.

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