Advocates - Terms of reference

National Beneficiaries Advocacy Consultative Group (NBACG) and Ministry of Social Development interface and working relationship

Information

These terms of reference deal with the special relationship between advocacy groups that make up NBACG and the Ministry.

  • Background

    A number of beneficiary advocacy organisations operate around New Zealand. These provide a voice, support and assistance for people who may have difficulty in obtaining their full and correct entitlement.

    Regular quarterly meetings between representatives from the National Beneficiaries Advocacy Consultative Group (NBACG) and the Ministry have been in place since the national network of beneficiary advocacy groups was established in 2000. These meetings provide a forum to discuss on-going issues of concern, share information and, where there are mutually agreed problems, to identify what changes in legislation, programmes, directives and operational policy and practices could be made.

  • Sponsors

    Brendan Boyle, Chief Executive of the Ministry of Social Development.

  • Purpose, scope and membership

    Purpose

    Advocacy consultation provides further contributions to a long-term, co-ordinated direction for policy development by gaining insight from those advocating on behalf of the people directly affected. In light of this both parties agree to discuss ongoing areas of concern and, where there are mutually agreed problems, to identify what action is to be taken.

    Where the parties do not agree there is a problem, it is not seen as a priority by the Ministry, or there is no agreement from the Minister, the NBACG are free to use other channels to voice their concerns.

    These terms of reference deal with the special relationship between advocacy groups that make up NBACG and the Ministry. The relationship with other advocates is dealt with in the Ministry’s Working Relationship with Client Representatives document. The principles in that document will apply also to this relationship but these terms of reference will take precedence over that document if there is any conflict.

    NBACG advocates and the Ministry have a mutual commitment to work together and resolve issues by adopting a non technical, positive and client focussed approach.

    The parties are committed to creating a culture of collaboration to achieve better outcomes for New Zealanders by:

    • informing the relevant Ministries of matters that advocacy groups consider to be problems within the welfare area
    • determining which issues both advocacy groups and the Ministry agree are problems
    • prioritising the issues that need to be worked on by both parties
    • sharing insights and exchanging information through quarterly meetings and workshops
    • establishing working groups or inviting representatives from the NBACG to be part of existing groups to help co design solutions.
    • where appropriate providing input and advice into the development of new legislation, policies, programmes and practices; and
    • where appropriate, contributions to changes in legislation, programmes, directives, operational policy and practices.

    Scope

    In scope

    Out of scope

    Quarterly meetings and resulting opportunities for information sharing
    Agreed agenda items MSD's working relationship with client representatives
    General/wider sharing of information and confidentiality requirements

    Membership

    Membership consists of:

    • National Beneficiaries Advocacy Consultative Group (NBACG)

    Representatives are selected by advocacy groups that currently form NBACG, requirements include:

    • that the organisation/individual provides specialist benefit advocacy and support for people to formally review and appeal decisions regarding their benefit entitlement
    • the organisations whose primary function is advocating with MSD
    • having a sound working knowledge of Social Security legislation.

    The NBACG may, at their discretion, remove a member from the NBACG.

    NBACG membership currently includes:

    Role

    Member organisation / individual

    Co convenor

    Independent Advocacy

    Co convenor

    Southland Beneficiaries and Community Rights

    Member

    Beneficiary Advisory Service

    Member

    Beneficiary Education Advisory Services Inc

    Member

    Beneficiaries & Unwaged Workers Trust

    Member

    East Coast Beneficiary Service

    Member

    Homebuilders Family Centre

    Member

    Hutt Valley Benefit Education Service Trust

    Member

    People's Advocacy society

    Member

    Tairawhiti Beneficiary Advocacy Trust

    Member

    Te Whare Ruruhau o Meri Trust

    Member

    Te Runanganui O Waitaha me Maata Waka

    Member

    Community Law Waikato

    • MSD National Relationship Manager Client Representatives

    The National Relationship Manager Client Representatives is appointed by the Chief Executive of MSD, in consultation with the NBACG.

    • Other MSD officials and Deputy Chief Executives

    MSD officials may wish to provide the group updates regarding areas of development or change or the NBACG may request more information or an update regarding a particular area, MSD officials will therefore attend as required.

    • Other Government Departments

    Other Government Departments as required.

  • Meetings and logistics

    The quarterly meetings are generally held over 2 days.

    Meeting logistics include that:

    • the MSD Relationship Manager Client Representatives is responsible for the role of Secretariat which includes travel, payment, agenda and meeting arrangements
    • items for discussion at the meeting are to be shared with both parties, with agreement, four weeks before the meeting (other than urgent items) so that both parties have time to prepare and respond
      • NBACG members to send items through the Co-ordinator,
      • MSD to send through the Relationship Manager Client Representatives.
    • the agenda is to be confirmed three weeks prior to the quarterly meeting.
    • if an NBACG member is unable to attend a meeting or if someone is attending the meeting on their behalf, they must advise one of the Co-Convenors who will notify the Secretariat prior to the meeting.
    • if an MSD representative is unable to attend or if someone is attending the meeting on their behalf, they must advise the Secretariat
    • sessions will be co-chaired by the National Relationship Manager for Client Representatives and a NBACG representative. Notes are taken of the key discussions, agreed actions and date the action is due.
    • draft notes and action points are to be sent out within 3 weeks of the meeting being held
    • four weekly progress updates on outstanding action points
    • MSD is responsible for the cost of travel, accommodation where required and other associated costs.
  • Principles

    All participants to these meetings agree that the discussions and workings of meetings be carried out in line with the following principles:

    Good faith

    • Ensuring processes are fair and transparent.
    • Clearly defining the level of engagement MSD and NBACG will have. These may include (but are not limited to) briefings, workshops, consultation and working groups.
    • Acting within agreed spheres of confidentiality and acknowledging the privileged nature of some of the shared information.
    • Adhering to set processes outlined in the protocol for joint working groups.

    Client focused

    • We improve our clients’ experience and service.

    Mutual respect

    • We respect each other's independence.
    • We respect each other contributions.
    • We have a high level of trust.
    • We work on solutions together.
    • We recognise there will be situations where we will agree to disagree.
    • Using the agreed escalation process with the aim of early resolution.
  • Reporting and escalation

    MSD acknowledges that some people don't always receive the level of service that is expected or have difficulty in obtaining their full and correct entitlement; Client Representatives provide a voice for these people.

    Where an issue arises, advocates will follow the agreed escalation flow chart that includes the following progression:

    1. Discuss and attempt to resolve the situation with the site.
    2. Discuss and attempt to resolve the situation with the appropriate regional staff
    3. Where the issue is common for many clients/sites advocates will refer examples to the NBACG convenors so they can be collated and they can be added to the agenda for the next quarterly meeting; and/or
    4. Refer the themes to the National Relationship Manager for Client Representatives.

    The method chosen will depend on if the issue is common to many clients within a region or common to the whole country.

    Any escalation of issues to Regional or National Office must be done in writing. The Ministry should acknowledge the escalation within 24 hours. A written record will be kept for any communications, meetings or agreements between client representatives and the Ministry.

    The success of any escalation process is that both parties deliver on any agreements reached, for example agreements to provide more information, agreements to re-consider an issue and provide a response. Both parties will apply their best endeavours to comply with any agreements reached, and if unable to comply, to notify the other party and provide reasons. Wherever possible timeframes should be re-negotiated, but this must bear in mind the objective of the escalation process, which is to efficiently and effectively deal with matters of disagreement.

    If the matter still cannot be resolved, the issue will be escalated to the National Relationship Manager for Client Representatives who will work with the relevant Deputy Chief Executive's office for determination. In serious cases, advocates reserve the right to refer the matter directly to the Chief Executive.

  • Confidentiality

    It is the role of government advisers to provide Ministers' with free and frank advice on a range of issues and policy options. In providing this advice officials may wish to engage with a range of stakeholders to canvas options and ideas. This engagement can only occur in an environment where both parties recognise and respect the roles of the respective parties in the process of providing advice to Ministers.

    While valuing their independence from Government, advocacy groups acknowledge that in order to have input into the development of Government policy at an early stage there will, at times, be a need for confidentiality.

    If participants wish subjects and/or materials covered at meetings to be kept confidential then this should be made clear before the subjects and/or materials are discussed. The reasons for, and the terms of, the confidentiality should be tabled at the meeting. Participants who do not wish to be bound by confidentiality should excuse themselves from the meeting prior to the subjects and/or materials being discussed.

    Subjects and/or materials that are confidential shall not be made available outside the terms of the confidentiality agreement. The categories of confidentiality are as follows:

    Level 1 Discussion and information is limited to the advocate members of the groups attending the meeting at which the matter is discussed. This means there can be no discussion or sharing of information with anyone who was not present at the meeting. Agreement will be reached for when the information can be discussed and or shared.
    Level 2 The matters discussed can be shared and further discussed with members of the NBACG as well as other persons attached to the advocate members' organisation outside the meeting. Members of the NGACG would be expected to brief the wider staff of their organisation about confidentiality.
    Level 3 The matters discussed can be shared and further discussed with the general public.

    The latter levels will be particularly appropriate where the Ministry is seeking wider consultation.

    Comments and opinions expressed during meetings will not be attributed. However, subject to the confidentiality provisions referred to above, one's own opinions, views and agreements reached by the group on the topics discussed, may be discussed publicly. Misrepresentational breaches of confidentiality will be escalated to the National Manager Client Representatives or the Chief Executive depending on the severity.

    Advocacy groups that do not wish be bound by confidentiality on particular issues should nevertheless have access to information regarding these issues where such information can be provided under the Official Information Act (OIA). Such information should be provided in a timely fashion. The Ministry will consider whether information would be released under an OIA request before determining the level of confidentiality.

  • Communications, accountability and disputes

    Advocates can request meetings with the Minister for Social Development. Within the constraints of the confidentiality provisions above, advocacy representatives will be free to report back to their organisations and networks.

    Members of the NBACG and staff of their wider organisations are expected to act in good faith when handling information they have received through these channels.

    Disputes

    If either party feels that the other has not acted in good faith or departed significantly from the terms above, it is agreed that the parties will, as soon as practicable, try to resolve the matter informally.

    If it is not possible to resolve the matter, either party will refer the particular issue to the National Relationship Manager Client Representative. The National Manager will make such further enquiries as are necessary having regard to the particular issue.

    If either party is still not satisfied the matter will be escalated to the Chief Executive to deal with. However advocates reserve the right if a particularly serious issue arises, to have the matter referred directly to the Chief Executive.

    In addition to this each working party will clearly define the escalation model they deem appropriate for their purpose within their Terms of Reference provided it is consistent with the agreed Protocol for Working Groups

  • Signed by

    Brendan Boyle
    Chief Executive
    Ministry of Social Development

    Representatives from the National Beneficiaries Advocacy Consultative Group member organisations

    Independent Advocacy
    Southland Beneficiaries and Community Rights
    Beneficiary Advisory Service
    Beneficiary Education Advisory Services Inc
    Beneficiaries and Unwaged Workers Trust
    East Coast Beneficiary Service
    Homebuilders Family Centre
    Hutt Valley Benefit Education Service Trust
    People's Advocacy Society
    Tairawhiti Beneficiary Advocacy Trust
    Te Whare Ruruhau o Meri Trust
    Te Runanganui O Waitaha me Maata Wake Inc