According NZHerald, Gary and Judy Inglis have got a $55,000 power bill after being undercharged for years say Mercury Energy is bullying them to pay.
The couple, who own Smitty’s Sports Bar and Grill in Whitianga, say they switched power providers in January 2007 after a door-to-door salesman promised lower bills for their business. But last July they received a letter from the power giant claiming they had been billed incorrectly and ordering them to pay $54,758.11.
Mercury Energy attempted to soften the blow by offering a payment plan of 36 monthly instalments of $1343.28. The company said it had been reading five dials instead of six on the meter and blamed information provided by the couple’s previous provider, Empower.
The couple refused to repay the full amount and Mercury’s parent company, state-owned Mighty River Power, started legal action to retrieve the money last November.
Gary said: “I can’t believe a large organisation like Mercury can bully us like this. They are forcing us to pay for their mistakes. It has put us under extreme pressure and we are finding it hard to come to grips with the whole situation. We wake up each morning thinking about it and it’s become a major headache.”
Mercury uses Metrix, a “state-of-the-art metering and metering-equipment service” to monitor customers. More over, Gary said at least four meter readers had checked their reading and failed to detect the error.
Gary said he would be forced to take out a loan if the court ordered them to pay the full bill, which amounts to more than a year’s profit. Before receiving the letter he was paying about $800 a month for energy and found it unfathomable the bill could be more than double that. He said: “I have been through past bills with my accountant and am completely mystified as to how they came up with this figure.”
In correspondence seen by the Herald on Sunday, company lawyers accused the couple of being aware of the underbilling and of not “acting in good faith”. The couple deny prior knowledge and say they will fight the case.
Mercury is unbowed by their appeals. Spokeswoman Marie Hosking said the couple had been offered a very generous payment plan. She said: “The issue is very simple. Customers need to pay for the electricity they consume. If they don’t, then other customers who do pay end up bearing that cost.”
The Electricity and Gas Complaints Commission handled 1900 disputes involving amounts under $20,000 last year. Arguments about higher amounts are dealt with in court.
Commissioner Judi Jones said she was unable to comment on individual cases, but power companies were entitled to back-bill if they had a legitimate reason for not being able to read the meter. Judi said: “It depends if the company have made a genuine mistake. But also you can expect the customer to have a look at their bills and decide that. It goes both ways.”
Mighty River Power posted a record net profit of $159.6 million in the year to June 30. [via NZHerald]