Wage subsidy headache: Website outage blamed on technical glitch

Business owners have been left frustrated and angry as the Government’s wage subsidy application website appeared to close three hours ahead of its deadline last night.

The cut-off period for applications for the first tranche of the August 2021 wage subsidy was meant to close off at 11.59pm Thursday night.

But business adviser Geoff Neal said he was contacted at 9.10pm by a very stressed client saying the application form had closed early.

“This contradicted multiple pages on the WINZ website that were still simultaneously saying it will close at 11.59pm.”

Neal said a lot of small-business owners do their admin in the evening and would have been caught out by it.

He said the client then contacted him just over an hour later at 10.12pm to say the site was open again.

A screenshot of the WINZ site from 1.10am blamed the problem on a “technical glitch” and apologies before extending the application period to 7am this morning.

“We had some technical issues and our website incorrectly said Wage Subsidy applications had closed. The issues are now fixed. We’re really sorry about this.

“In fairness to those who tried to apply over this time we have extended the application period out to 7am Friday 3 September.”

Neal doubted many would have seen the late-night extension leaving thousands of business owners feeling stressed and missing out on the money which is designed to be paid out to workers to help keep them employed.

“How many businesses would have stumbled across that webpage before then? WINZ again looks to have also failed to email businesses with this information.”

Neal said the Government needed to front-foot the mess with a proper apology, deadline extension and communication out to businesses already on their database.

Unlike the first level 4 lockdown in March last year, this time around businesses have a small window to apply for each two-week tranche of the wage subsidy.

Those who don’t apply by then miss out on that 14-day period and it won’t be back-dated, although they can apply for subsequent two weekly blocks.

To apply for the wage subsidy business have to be able to prove they have had a 40 per cent drop in revenue over a 14 day period.

Neal said many businesses couldn’t measure actual fortnightly revenue losses until the end of Wednesday, September 1/start of Thursday, September 2.

“Yet the Government put a deadline of just 24 hours to get these calculations done and applications submitted. All at a time when financial and mental stress has never been higher for Kiwi SMEs, and they’ve having to scramble every stressful day.”

He said businesses should get at least a fortnight after the end of a fortnight period to apply, if not a month.

As of August 29, 2021, the Ministry of Social Development had received 288,315 applications and approved a total amount paid out for $811.65 million.

Most businesses that have applied are small with a large number of sole traders applying for it.

Businesses who are eligible can be paid out $600 per week per full-time equivalent employee, and $359 per week per part-time employee.

They can also apply for a separate support payment called the Resurgent Support Payment from the Inland Revenue.

To qualify, firms must incur a loss of 30 per cent of revenue as a result of the alert level increase over a seven-day period.

The RSP is worth up to $1500 plus $400 per full-time equivalent employee, up to a maximum of 50 full-time employees (so up to a total of $21,500) and is a one-off payment available for each lockdown.

Neal said many SMEs had been confused with the complex process and the fact there are two support funds with two different qualification periods and revenue drops required to meet the criteria.

“One didn’t seem to have a deadline, the other had an incredibly harsh 24-hour deadline after lockdown. Many SMEs didn’t know they could apply for both. This was not made clear enough on either website.”

He said the communication had not been good enough.

“I haven’t seen a single email from a government department advising SMEs to get their applications in. Perhaps there were some, but the communication wasn’t nearly as good as it should be from IRD and WINZ.

“Overall, this design could and should have been a lot simpler to understand, calculate, and apply for. Why couldn’t one government department manage a single application process with consistent calculation rules?”

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