Forced to live without power over deceased grandmother's debt

Taumarunui mother of five Lorna Rakena was forced to live without power for five months because of an outstanding estate bill that belonged to her deceased grandmother.

The Lines Company (TLC) refused to connect her power despite knowing Rakena was not responsible for the $2500 debt.

Rakena, her partner and and five tamariki moved into her deceased grandmother's property after their rental home was put on the market. But when Rakena asked to set up an account, TLC refused.

TLC is a community-owned power distribution company based in the King Country. They claim their business is "about building strong communities and improving the lives of the people they serve".

But Rakena says for five months TLC ignored her desperate calls for help, despite explaining to them that she had a child with chronic eczema and another with a foot infection.

"I just ended up breaking down in my office at work. Felt like they just didn't care, didn't care about my children. I think one phone call they said, 'Oh, lots of people are living like that these days.' ... I was like wow, me and my children have to live like that."

Lorna Rakena
Lorna Rakena. Photo credit: The Hui

Rakena began recording her calls with TLC staff which she shared exclusively with Three's The Hui.

The battle to have the power connected took a huge toll - the stress of trying to run a household and raise five children without power meant Rakena had to resign from her job as an administrator at a kura kaupapa.

Finally Work and Income (WINZ) provided assistance, giving Rakena a loan to pay off the debt.

But Waitemata Community Law Centre CEO Tom Harris says he's concerned WINZ is providing loans to pay off third-party debt rather than advocating for clients.

"I applaud WINZ for their attempt. They really tried to help once they realised what was going on but should this debt be created in her name when she should never have been denied in the first place?"

Lorna Rakena
Lorna Rakena recorded her calls with TLC. Photo credit: The Hui

The CEO has now apologised to Rakena and a confidential settlement has been reached.

"We've made a huge mistake with Lorna and as soon as I found out I went down there and apologised."

He told The Hui Rakena had been gracious towards him, and TLC is now reviewing her case to ensure the same mistakes are not repeated.

The Hui

 

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