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Supporting rural communities

It can be harder for people who live in rural communities to get the right support when they need it.

Around 14% of New Zealanders live in rural areas and rural community services are often the only way for clients in geographically isolated areas to access a broad range of support services.

The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) is investing $19.7 million over the next four years to strengthen support for rural communities so people can access the help, information and advice they need.

A significant amount of the Budget 2020 funding ($10.1 million) has been allocated to relieve cost pressures experienced by current service providers. In addition, MSD is investing an additional $9.6 million over the next three years to strengthen our support for rural communities.

The 2019 review of information, advice and referral services

The challenges of rural isolation were highlighted by our 2019 review of two MSD-funded programmes. Both provide information, advice and referral services to people in rural, provincial and urban regions:

  • Heartland Services (most of these service centres are in rural areas), and
  • Information and AdvisoryServices

We engaged widely during the review and heard people living in rural areas can face significant challenges finding and/or getting the right government or social support when they need it.

In addition to cost pressures, providers based in rural areas told us they face several key issues, which include:

  • The decreasing presence of government and NGO agencies in rural areas
  • Inconsistent practices and a lack of professional support
  • Out-of-date technology, information and communication systems
  • Limited accessibility in some locations for some people. For example:
    • Travel and transport from remote locations is impractical or expensive
  • Co-location with government agencies can create trust barriers for some
  • Inconsistent and unhelpful contracting and reporting processes

The 2019 review also identified a set of proposed ‘future state’ principles:

  • Rural community services are available and easy to access in rural areas
  • Service hubs are fully-funded and viable
  • Face-to-face services are available, supported by digital technology
  • Kotahitanga (public, private, NGO partnerships)

Current and future state reports

Two reports outline the current state of rural community services (the 2019 review findings) and the desired future state (our proposed direction for strengthening access to information, advice and referral services in rural communities):

Future direction for rural communities

The future state report signals our intention to identify the best geographic locations and to fill geographic and other gaps in the current rural network. We’ll identify Heartland Services based in urban areas and move them to rural communities where access is poor or non-existent.

We’ll collaborate with providers and others to finalise locations and to agree the service model for the future network. This will include improved digital and physical infrastructure, refreshed brand and marketing, and professional development and support for the people delivering services to their communities.

Funding full-time, dedicated people to work in the rural ‘hubs’ alongside their communities will be central to providing more consistent access to the right government, iwi/Māori, NGO or other social service, depending on individuals’ needs. Where extra help may be needed to make sure of access, this dedicated community ‘team’ will also offer practical help.

Supporting diverse communities through stronger rural community hubs

We want a stronger hub network serving the diverse peoples who make up our rural communities in 21st century Aotearoa. This includes iwi/Māori, Pacific peoples, refugee and migrant communities, rainbow people, disabled people and people with health (including mental health) challenges.

We’ll engage widely in the coming months with current providers, community partners, government agencies and others. We’ll invite their feedback on our 2019 review and proposed direction and ask them to partner with us to develop and realise a shared vision for a stronger network of rural community hubs.

Breakdown of funding

There’s more information about this Budget 2020 initiative on our MSD website.

Service typeFunding typeYear 1 20/21 ($m)Year 2 21/22 ($m)

Year 3 22/23 ($m)

Year 4 23/24 ($m)

4-year total ($m)

Heartland Service


Information and Advisory Service
Service delivery 1.728 3.046 6.722 6.722 18.218
Design, implementation and evaluation 0.35 0.4 0.4 0.4 1.55
Total 2.078 3.446 7.122 7.122 7.122

Next steps

We’ll communicate our next steps to current providers and other stakeholders shortly, including about our engagement plans leading up to December 2020:

  1. November to December 2020: we’ll hold online meetings with community providers and others, to discuss our review findings and implementation approach; and
  2. November to December 2020: we’ll engage with Wellington-based government agencies and other potential network partners to discuss our direction and invite their interest and involvement in utilising a stronger network of rural community support — either now or in the future.

We’ll update this page from time to time, as we make progress implementing a stronger rural community hub network.

If you have any questions, please email our rural community hubs project team:

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