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Episode 26: August 16, 2006

Published: 1:13PM Thursday August 17, 2006

Reporter: Simon Mercep

Sixteen year old Sarah McCabe of Feilding said she was shocked to be given a $400 fine for aiding and abetting a teenager friend to drive without a licence. Her father, Ewel, said it was like punishing someone for being a passenger, and he thought it was unfair. 

Sarah, who has no licence, had been in a car with two teenage friends. One of her friends also had no licence, while the other, whose parents owned the car, had a restricted licence. Sarah said just before leaving for a trip from Wanganui to Feilding, the friend with no licence said he would drive. Sarah said at this time she believed he had his licence.

On the way, they were stopped by police. Sarah said the police officer told them he had reports of them driving irresponsibly in Wanganui. Sarah said this was not the case.  She added that when the police officer discovered their driver had no licence, he was fined for this. Sarah and her friend were both fined $400 each for aiding and abetting an unlicenced driver to drive.

Sarah said the police officer did not explain how it was that she and her friend were aiding and abetting. Sarah's father, Ewel, said it was fair that the driver was fined, but he did not understand how passengers were guilty of an offence. He suggested it was an example of police being more concerned about revenue gathering.

Ewel was interested to see if he had public backing for his view. He set up a discussion group on the internet, and found that opinion was split. Some supported the police for being tough on teenagers in cars, while others thought the police may have gone too far.

Police said their officer issued the tickets to get the teenagers to accept responsibility for their behaviour. Police said any decisions about infringement notices are subject to review. In this case, a review determined that while the teenagers' behaviour was irresponsible, it did not reach the threshold required to pursue a prosecution for aiding and abetting.  Police decided to waive the tickets to both passengers.

In a studio interview, Superintendent Dave Cliff, National Road Policing Manager, said aiding and abetting had been an infringement notice option for several years, although it was not commonly used. He said even passengers could be fined, if they actively encouraged an unlicenced driver to drive.

Superintendent Cliff said police were entitled to use notices like this to get the road safety message across to young people.

Reporter: Greg Boyed

Greg Hope accepts that living and operating a business in Haast has its drawbacks.

Greg and partner Natalie Giroux run Aspiring Court Motel, a backpackers operation two hours away from cellphone coverage and frankly in the middle of nowhere. One of their main drawbacks is the choice of power company: exactly one.  New Zealand Energy is the only power company to operate in the greater Haast area, and that is the company Greg and Natalie have been battling for months.

Greg says more than a year ago he noticed that of the three meters at his business, one appeared to be getting billed at a ridiculously low rate.  He did not know exactly what the problem was, but knew that while the other two meters were billed at hundreds (and during peak season thousands) of dollars that one rogue meter was consistently being billed for just a few dollars.

Greg contacted New Zealand Energy with his concerns, and followed that up with a spread sheet showing just how much lower that one of his three meters was reading.  New Zealand Energy maintained there was no problem. Greg, happy that there was nothing to worry about, carried on with business as usual.

A year later, New Zealand Energy called to say that they had, in fact, failed to multiply that rogue meter by fifty when they took its reading back to be billed.  New Zealand Energy said Greg and Natalie owed them more than $10,000. Greg and Natalie were unimpressed after having previously warned the energy company that there was a meter problem. However, there was more to come.

Suzanne White runs Wilderness Accommodation next door to Greg and Natalie's operation. She also received a power bill shock from New Zealand Energy.  The company's boss, David Inch, visited Suzanne to tell her Wilderness Accommodation had been billed for using domestic line rental rather than commercial rates.  Suzanne was told that mistake meant her business owed between five and six thousand dollars to New Zealand Energy.  She made it clear that she had no intention of paying for New Zealand Energy's mistake. It was agreed to waive the bill.

A quick chat pointing out who was at fault managed to sort the problem for Suzanne, yet Greg and Natalie were expected to pay up although they had pointed out their problem months before.  David Inch says he waived Suzanne White's bill because she was billed incorrectly for a line rental, whereas Greg and Natalie had used power and had not been billed for it.

Greg and Natalie agreed to pay seven of the ten thousand dollars outstanding. But when they heard that their neighbour had been let off, they thought again. They have paid $5000 - half of what New Zealand Energy says they owe. However, the case is now going to the Disputes Tribunal.

Greg and Natalie plan a counter-claim against New Zealand Energy for $10,000.  They say they are willing to drop that claim if New Zealand Energy stops pursuing the remaining money the company says is owed by the couple.  Greg and Natalie also want New Zealand Energy to join the Electricity and Gas Complaints Commission (an independent electricity dispute body).

David Inch says Aspiring Court agreed to pay seven thousand dollars then reneged on that. He says he sees no reason why New Zealand Energy should provide a further concession.

Reporter: Hannah Wallis

Heaps of you have got in touch with us over the past week asking if a mass mail-out from a domain registration company called NZ Domain Registration Ltd, is on the level.

Here's how it works - the letters are sent to organisations like, say, Fair Go, offering to register a domain name very similar to the name that organisation already uses - for instance fairgo., but the domain name already used might be or fairgo. org. nz. And because they look like invoices these letters could end up costing unsuspecting punters lots - several we spoke to said they almost sent the money - $225 for two years registration - thinking they were re-registering their existing name. Another complainant said he checked whether the look-alike domain name was available - yes it was, but it wasn't owned by, and hadn't been reserved by NZ Domain Registration Ltd.

The company has an Auckland P.O. Box number and a street address in central Auckland, but when we checked, the receptionist told us it was a virtual office only - re-directing calls - and visitors - to an answerphone. None of our phone calls or faxes were answered by company director Blair Rafferty - he's based in Western Australia. Several years ago Chesley Rafferty - who we understand, is Blair Rafferty's brother - sent out mass mailings of authentic-looking domain name invoices both here and in Aussie - and the Aussie courts found Chesley Rafferty guilty of false and misleading conduct.

The Domain Name Commission obtained an interim Court Order freezing the company's assets, preventing any further soliciting by the company, and prohibiting them from trading in domain names or purporting to be a domain name registrar or reseller of domain names. The order is only a temporary measure. 

Commissioner Debbie Monahan suggests anyone who has mistakenly paid the company could try to put a stop on their money order or cheque, and if unsuccessful, send their details to the Domain Name Commission. (e-mail:

Reporter: Hannah Wallis

Last week we told you about 92 year-old West Coaster Mavis Rogers and her electricity supplier, TrustPower.  Her family complained Mavis had been on the wrong price plan for four years, paying up to $25 a month more than she needed to. TrustPower said they'd sent Mavis many letters detailing different price options.  The company said it was the responsibility of Mavis, or her family, to get the right rate and they weren't going to give a refund. And TrustPower's Graeme Purches told us it was impossible to work out a rebate anyway.

Aucklander Stephen Kestle sent us a letter he'd received from Mercury Energy which read:

"We checked, and we owe you a rebate. You are currently on our standard user plan ... however, we have identified that for part of this [year]  you were not on the best Mercury Energy price plan. We have credited your account with $9.95, which is the amount you have overpaid by not being on the right rate.  Mercury told Fair Go that had Mavis been their customer, they'd have automatically moved her to the correct plan and given her a rebate for the last 12 months when their service began.

TrustPower's CEO Keith Tempest's response was that Mavis could not have been automatically switched to the low user option because under government regulation, the low fixed charge option is only available to domestic consumers at their principal place of residence ... and consumers like Mavis are required to apply for it.  Mr Tempest said TrustPower supplies a large number of holiday homes, whereas most of Mercury's customers are full time residences. And he said that TrustPower negotiates with 28 separate line supply companies .. Mercury deals mainly with one.

TrustPower has placed large ads in the Christchurch Press and other papers, saying that Fair Go did not give TrustPower's Graeme Purches any real opportunity to explain the facts of the case. Fair Go says in a two-and-a-half minute interview, Graeme Purches had more than the first minute to say whatever he liked uninterrupted before we asked him some straight forward questions like,  "why cant you rebate Mavis's money?." The ads say that Fair Go asserted that TrustPower "overcharged" Mavis: Fair Go did not say that in either the story or in the interview. TrustPower's ad says: "you might wonder why her obviously supportive family hadn't helped their ageing mum earlier when she was invited to take up the low user option."  Fair Go finds it astonishing that a large corporate should use advertising to suggest that Mavis's family had fallen short in the help they gave her.

Finally, we wanted TrustPower to refund Mavis about $1,000.  We understand newspapers charge around $2000 each for ads like the ones TrustPower placed. 


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