Unhappy gas: a tale of costly system failure

Unhappy gas: a tale of costly system failure

In March 1999, a man living in Kandos (rural NSW) received a bill for his as-yet-unused gas line, stating that he owed $0.00. He ignored it and threw it away.

In April he received another bill and threw that one away too. The following month the gas company sent him a very nasty note stating they were going to cancel his gas line if he didn't send them $0.00 by return mail.

When he called them, they said it was a computer error and they would take care of it forthwith. The following month he decided it was about time he tested the troublesome gas line, hoping that if there was usage on the account it would put an end to the ridiculous predicament. However, when he went to use the gas it had been cut off.

He called the gas company, which apologised for the computer error once again and said it would take care of it. The next day he got a bill for $0.00, stating that payment was now overdue. Presuming that having spoken to them the previous day the latest bill was yet another mistake, he ignored it, trusting the company would be as good as their word and sort the problem out.

The next month he got a bill for $0.00, stating that he had 10 days to pay his account or the company would have to take steps to recover the debt.

Finally giving in, he thought he would beat the company at their own game and mailed them a cheque for $0.00. The computer duly processed his account and returned a statement to the effect that he now owed the gas company nothing at all.

A week later, the manager of the Mudgee branch of a large Australian bank called our hapless friend and asked him what he was doing writing a cheque for $0.00. After a lengthy explanation, the bank manager replied that the $0.00 cheque had caused their cheque-processing software to fail.

The bank could therefore not process ANY cheques they had received from ANY of their customers that day because the cheque for $0.00 had caused the computer to crash.

The following month the man received a letter from the gas company, claiming that his cheque had bounced and that he now owed them $0.00, and unless he sent a cheque by return mail they would be taking steps to recover the debt. The man then tried to file a debt harassment claim against the gas company. It took him nearly two hours to convince the clerks that he was not joking, but convince them he did.

They subsequently provided statements that were considered substantive evidence of the aggravation and difficulties the man had been forced to endure during this debacle.

The matter was heard in the Magistrate's Court in Mudgee and the outcome was this:

- The gas company was ordered to: Immediately rectify its computerised accounts system or show cause within 10 days why the matter should not be referred to a higher court for consideration under company law.

- Pay the bank dishonour fees incurred by the man.

- Pay the bank dishonour fees incurred by all the (large Australian bank clients) whose cheques had bounced.

- Pay the claimant's court costs.

- Pay the claimant a total of $1500 per month for the five-month period from March to July inclusive as compensation for the aggravation it had caused their client to suffer.

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