John (71), Retired. Taranaki, NZ.

I was one of thousands of people including many fellow pensioners who had been cut off from seeing family by the crazy travel bans. I had a new grandson who was already over a year old during the travel bans time so I had never seen him. Finally the govt. allowed some travel I went to QLD and was overjoyed to see my new grandchild at last. At that time there was no covid in NZ or QLD and Aus state borders were closed, so travel was completely safe. Suddenly and capriciously Ardern shut the borders for no real reason and we were supposed to change all plans and panic back to NZ. I was in far north QLD so not easy so I thought I would wait it out as I had months before the 6 month pension rule for travel and things would change. Wrong! On and on the ban went. I corresponded with the Pension people numerous times expecting that as it was only the govt's fault, the rule would be waived and the pension would continue. Wrong again. The pension people said tough luck pensioner, although it's not your fault and nothing to do with you you will lose the pension. This is a major problem to me and hundreds of others who rely on the pension for survival and I heard of many stories from Aussies who knew NZers stuck there and were in big trouble with no money and accommodation problems. Luckily I had family. Then they came up with the ballot thing and miraculously I won and got back days before my pension was cut off. I knew of others not so lucky. They were given a small allowance and on finally returning to NZ had to pay it back. Complete cruelty, none of it was their fault. Needless to say after 2 weeks on quarantine nobody tested positive as there was no covid around. Then the bill for $3,100 came followed by letters from MBIE and a debt collector company called Milton Graham threatening trouble if no payment. I pointed out to them the pension is not something you can save and invest from, also inflation took off and making do became increasingly difficult, so paying that huge, completely unbudgeted bill was out of the question for the forseeable future. If I had known I would be hit with such a monster cost I would never have travelled in the first place. So now I am forever traumatised by being in significant debt and probably having a dreadful credit rating after always paying my debts on time and strict, sensible budgeting. This cruelty should never have happened!

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