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Episode 02: February 22, 2006

Published: 1:17PM Thursday February 23, 2006

Help - what help?
Reporter: Simon Mercep

Evonne Puru came to Fair Go because of her concerns over the conduct of advocate, Dermot Nottingham. Evonne, who lives in Australia, needed someone back in New Zealand to represent her in an appeal to the ACC. The ACC had reviewed her back injury and decided she could work full-time again. Evonne disagreed. She said she could not do without ACC's weekly payments of $500.

Evonne approached Dermot Nottingham, who was associated with Advantage Advocacy Limited and ACC Union Limited. Evonne paid ACC Union Ltd a fee of around $13,000. In a letter, Dermot Nottingham explained that this fee included medical reports needed to argue her case. Evonne said she was told an appeal hearing should take place in eight to ten weeks. She was told she'd have two doctor's reports prepared for the hearing.

But after nearly a year, only one doctor's report had been completed. Evonne had to pay the doctor for that report separately, even though Dermott's letter told her that her fee covered this cost. She was then told a second doctor would cost too much. But again, Dermott's letter had said her fee covered this. She was advised to come to New Zealand to do "work trials", where her ability to do a job would be tested at a workplace. She was also advised to travel to New Zealand to attend the appeal hearing. This would all be at her own expense. At this point, Evonne said she lost confidence in Dermot Nottingham, and told him she no longer wanted him to represent her.

She hired lawyer Philip Schmidt. He got two doctors' reports, didn't ask her to attend work trials, or to attend the appeal hearing in person. He prepared the case in about a month. Evonne won her appeal. Philip Schmidt charged around $5,000, compared to the $13,000 Evonne paid to ACC Union Limited. Evonne asked Dermott Nottingham for a refund of part of her fee. The two sides could not agree on a figure.

Evonne said Dermot Nottingham was rude and aggressive when she raised her complaint. She said he suggested he would inform the ACC about information from her file that showed her to be a fraud. Evonne rejected that allegation and told us that several years before, she had been ordered by a court to repay money from the ACC. This had been done and she did not believe it was relevant to her appeal hearing. The ACC told Fair Go they were aware of the matter but did not regard it as relevant to the hearing.

Fair Go was also told by the ACC that it had decided it would no longer recognise Dermott Nottingham as an advocate. That decision was taken before Evonne had sought his help.

Dermot Nottingham also suggested there was evidence Evonne had lied about her injury, and therefore had committed perjury at the appeal hearing. Evonne, and her lawyer Philip Schmidt,  said this was rubbish. Evonne's lawyer said that an advocate like Dermott Nottingham received a client's personal information in trust and in confidence. He said it was unacceptable to threaten to use it in this way.

Dermot Nottingham joined Fair Go in the studio. He said he did not have enough time to respond fully to the issues in a few minutes. He said he had documents which showed Evonne had perjured herself and lied to a doctor. He said it wasn't up to him to decide whether Evonne was entitled to a refund.

The only other contact we have had on this issue is a fax we received from the Board of Advantage Advocacy which said Dermot Nottingham was not allowed to front up to discuss our questions; that several staff had dealt with Evonne's case; that important witnesses in Evonne's case couldn't readily be contacted; and that finally, Advantage Advocacy had other clients to worry about.

However, every time Fair Go approached  Advantage Advocacy after its fax to us, we ended up dealing with Dermot Nottingham.

Fair Go's view: Dermot Nottingham says that he has helped many people. That may be so, but we say that if consumers need an advocate for an ACC case, then based on Evonne's experience, we can't recommend Dermot Nottingham.

Absolute frustration
Reporter: Greg Boyed

Gordon Anslow and his Wellington Plumbing business ABC Plumbing have appeared on Fair Go three times before, but Gordon's latest appearance was a little different.
Gordon now trades in the capital as Absolute Plumbing Drains and Gas, and with that new name you'd hope would come a new attitude. But two clients found out, much to their regret, that wasn't the case.

Brenda Hamblyn hired Absolute to carry out work at her Paparangi home. She wanted her hot water cylinder replaced, a leak fixed in her back yard,  and the taps on her kitchen and bathroom sinks replaced.
She says she made it clear to Gordon Anslow that she wanted to spend $3000 and no more.

At Gordon's request, Brenda gave Absolute the details of her credit card account, in order to buy materials. When she checked her account the first bill for materials alone was more than $3000, without any work having been carried out. To Brenda's horror her final bill turned out to be more than $6000 and that's without either of the taps being replaced or the hole around the back yard leak being filled in.

She says she has never had it explained to her properly by Gordon why the bill blew out so badly, nor has he explained why the job took so long. Fair Go called a few other plumbers who said the job should have been a day and a half at most. So why did it take Gordon and a workman seven days?

Xiaowei Ding also needed the services of a plumber, after finding a leak from a pipe in her gas hot water cylinder. She called Absolute - and when Gordon turned up to inspect the cylinder, Xaiowei asked if the pipe could simply be replaced Gordon said no, the whole cylinder would need to be replaced.

Xaiowei (who also gave Gordon her credit card account numbers) asked if the whole job could be completed for two thousand dollars - she remembers his answer as "probably". But a few days later Xaiowei checked her account and found it had been debited for four and a half thousand dollars, still with no explanation as to why the costs had ballooned so dramatically.

Despite repeatedly asking for an explanation Xiaowei received nothing, until a few weeks after her job was completed. Then a final bill came from Absolute for just under five thousand dollars. An extra $481 had been deducted from her account and she still doesn't know why.

Again, the time taken for the job may explain some of it. Other plumbers called by Fair Go say replacing a gas hot water cylinder should take between four and six hours, maximum - nine hours. Absolute (according to its bill) laboured for 23 hours. Xiaowei Ding now regrets choosing Absolute Plumbing to do her work, and like Brenda, regrets giving him access to her credit account.

Why does Gordon Anslow have two more very unhappy customers? Gordon refused to comment, saying that because both claims are under investigation by the Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drain layers Board it would be inappropriate.

The Board itself also wouldn't comment specifically about Gordon Anslow. But it does have a fair amount of clout with wayward plumbers. Last year the Board suspended its first plumber and if a plumber is found guilty of bringing the trade into disrepute they can be removed from the PGDB Board for up to a year and fined ten thousand dollars.

Anyone who has a complaint about Gordon or any plumber they are unhappy with should write to the Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drain layers Board at PO Box 10655 Wellington or e-mail them at Registrar@pgdb.co.nz

Dog owner licks council red tape
Reporter: Sandra Kailahi

Last year, Peter Joyce of Tauranga was fined $750 for not giving his date of birth on his dog Benji's registration form. His beef? Dog rego already requires the dog owner's full name and address and the dog's license number is unique and individual. Peter and other complainants thought this was just TOO MUCH INFORMATION!

Well, now there's an interesting twist to this tale. Peter Joyce has sold his dog, Benji to his company and now Benji's a shareholder. Peter's $750 fine has been overturned by the Tauranga District Council, which says Peter has complied with legal requirements. But before you rush off to sell your dog to your company...take note...it's not that clear cut up and down the country.

'Fair Go' contacted a few councils around the country and this is what we found.

The Auckland City Council does allow companies to register dogs but only if they're Guide Dogs, Hearing Dogs or Police Dogs. The Dunedin City Council says dogs can't be registered to a company, a person must own the dog and the Kapiti Coast District Council says a company can own a dog, but Council still needs the date of birth of someone within that company, who's in charge of the dog. So clearly, there are differences of opinion.
 
Fair Go's take - this is bureaucracy gone bonkers - and Council would better spend their time and resources going after unregistered dogs and dangerous dogs.

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