Tavis De Smit was shocked to discover he will be stung with a power bill backdated five years. Photo: Sinead Ogilvie.

Shock over $5k power bill

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A power bill with no name on it has snowballed into thousands of dollars over five years and now one local man has been told to pay.

Tavis De Smit has rented a Beatson Rd shed since 2008 and has never been asked to contribute to a power bill. The shed is one of three in the same building and all are connected to the same power source. He says he assumed the power bill was already taken care of because power was running when he first rented the shed and he never received a power bill or was approached to pay.

But a month ago Tavis arrived at his shed to find a disconnection notice addressed to “unknown customer” from power supplier Contact Energy. Confused and concerned, he called them to clear up the matter and was told it had been disconnected due to non-payment. “It came as a surprise, as I had never had to deal with the power before. I’ve seen meter readers over the years but other than that, nothing.”

As he uses the space daily to store vehicles, parts and undertake hobby mechanics, he asked Contact if he could set up his own account and get the power back on as soon as possible. He was told the supply for that address was in arrears, but someone would be along to reconnect it and set up an account in his name, with the outstanding amount of $4952.79 to be discussed at a later date.

With a 2008 lease agreement as proof of his authority at the shed, Contact have since told Tavis they will be back dating the power owed to the date on his lease and he will be asked to pay for it, despite being just one of many tenants who have come and gone over the years and who have failed to pay their way.
“It comes down to negligence by all parties really. Negligence on my part for not ever checking the situation but also negligence by Contact, who didn’t notice the bill hadn’t been paid for five years,” says Tavis.

With not a lot of options left to him, considering he admits he’s partly in the wrong, Tavis is hopeful Contact will acknowledge their part of the blame and treat him “fairly”.
“I’m happy to pay for some of it, as I have used it, but I didn’t know it wasn’t being paid for and I don’t like the idea of having to pay for their mistake and other people’s power.”
A spokesperson for Contact Energy, who has recorded $199 million in profit for this year, was reluctant to comment on how the bill remained off their radar for five years, citing privacy reasons.

“Vacant consumption, as this issue is often referred to, is something that most electricity retailers work to manage. We’ll be making efforts to contact Mr De Smit again to discuss the bill with him further and discuss all options.”
Tavis says he will speak to Contact staff again this week.

Robin Smith, chairperson of the Tasman Nelson Citizens Advice Bureau, says it is clear the situation is both a tenancy and power supply issue.
He says the tenant should check the lease agreement and if there appears to be an issue he would need to take it up firstly with the landlord and if there is no resolution, with the Tenancy Tribunal.

“If there is a dispute in the area of power supply, we would be able to make contact with Contact Energy on his behalf. If he is not happy with how the matter is resolved he could also make a complaint to the Electricity and Gas Complaints Commissioner Scheme.”
Robin believes a meeting with the other tenants and the landlord could be beneficial, to come to an agreement in the way the arrears could be paid.