Own­ers fume over bill

Central Leader - - Front Page - By Heather McCracken

A RESTAU­RANT owner is an­gry he’ll spend the next two years strug­gling to pay off a shock $7000 gas bill.

Serm Kong­watana was sent the bill by gas provider Con­tact En­ergy af­ter three years of prob­lems with read­ing his gas me­ter.

He feared his busi­ness would be ru­ined af­ter first re­ceiv­ing the pay­ment de­mand ear­lier this year.

“I called Con­tact and said I can’t af­ford to pay,” he says.

“I can barely sur­vive at the mo­ment any­way.”

Mr Kong­watana and his wife Rawan, who have run the Royal Siam restau­rant in Royal Oak for 10 years, changed gas sup­pli­ers to Con­tact En­ergy in 2005. They have had prob­lems with the me­ter ever since.

Con­tact En­ergy con­tacted the restau­rant sev­eral times to re­port it was faulty, or too high to read, or un­able to be ac­cessed.

Per­mis­sion was given for the me­ter to be fixed, but noth­ing was done for three years.

Mr Kong­watana says the pre­vi­ous com­pany had no prob­lems read­ing the me­ter, which is on a wall out­side the restau­rant.

“It has been there for more than 10 years,” he says.

When the me­ter was fi­nally re­placed ear­lier this year, the com­pany sent a catch-up bill for $6907.17.

Mr Kong­watana, who works seven days a week, says he doesn’t have the money to pay it.

And the bill has come at a par­tic­u­larly slow time for the busi­ness.

A sched­ule of weekly pay­ments spread over a year was agreed to in June.

But since then, Mr Kong­watana has re­ceived six let­ters say­ing the over­due amount must be paid in full, or the gas would be cut off.

Con­tact En­ergy spokesman Jonathan Hill has apol­o­gised for the Kong­watana’s “less than per­fect ex­pe­ri­ence”.

“It’s pretty clear that this cus­tomer has not had the kind of ser­vice we want to pro­vide,” he says.

Mr Hill says the bill arose be­cause of prob­lems read­ing the me­ter and the bank fail­ing to process pay­ments, which were not Mr Kong­watana’s fault.

“It’s just been a com­bi­na­tion of things that haven’t gone right for this cus­tomer and we’re very sorry about that.”

Con­tact En­ergy has now of­fered a pay­ment scheme spread over two years, a move Mr Kong­watana says he’s ac­cepted to avoid the gas be­ing dis­con­nected.

But he will still pur­sue a com­plaint through the Elec­tric­ity and Gas Com­plaints Com­mis­sion.

Con­tact En­ergy is a mem­ber of the com­mis­sion, and must com­ply with the gas con­sumer code of prac­tice.

Dis­putes about bills or me­ter­ing for amounts up to $20,000 can be con­sid­ered.

Photo: JA­SON OXENHAM

Gas shock: Royal Oak restau­rant own­ers Serm and Rawan Kong­watana were stunned to re­ceive a $7000 gas bill.

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