If this wasn’t a serious issue, it would be funny!
A man living in Kandos (near Rylstone and Mudgee) received a bill last March 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 that they were going to cancel his gas line if he didn’t send them $0.00 by return mail.
He called them, talked to them, and they said it was a computer error and they would take care of it. The following month he decided that it was about time that he tried out the troublesome gas line figuring that if there was usage on the account it would put an end to this ridiculous predicament. However, when he went to use the gas, it had been cut off.
He called the gas company who apologised for the computer error once again and said that they would take care of it. The next day he got a bill for $0.00 stating that payment was now overdue. Assuming that having spoken to them the previous day the latest bill was yet another mistake, he ignored it, trusting that the company would be as good as their word and sort the problem out.
The next month he got a bill for $0.00. This bill also stated 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 gas 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 the Westpac Banking Corporation called our hapless friend and asked him what he was doing writing 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 take immediate steps to recover the debt.
At this point, the man decided to file a debt harassment claim against the gas company. It took him nearly two hours to convince the clerks at the local courthouse that he was not joking. They subsequently helped him in the drafting of statements which were considered substantive evidence of the aggravation and difficulties he 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 their computerized 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 Westpac clients whose cheques had been bounced on the day our friend’s had been processed.
 Pay the claimant’s court costs; and
 Pay the claimant a total of $1500 per month for the 5 month period March to July inclusive as compensation for the aggravation they had caused their client to suffer.
And all this over $0.00
This is a great story isn’t it? It illustrates a fine example of bureaucracy gone mad, and the impersonal nature of computerised systems. The gas flow is measured by automatic flow meters. The accounts are then raised by computers, stuffed in envelopes by an automatic letter feeder, stamped by a franker, and sent to the customer without so much as being viewed by a human throughout the whole accounting process to check their accuracy. The sole aim being to cut costs. It is also stated that Derek Guille broadcast this story on his afternoon program on ABC radio on Thursday, 24 January 2002.
Except……that this whole story is an urban myth! It started circulation in about 1997 and the offending company has been a credit card company, an oil company, a student loan company and in this Australian version which appearred in 2003, a gas company.
Look here for further information.
Remember the old adage of never letting the truth get in the way of a good story!