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11 July 2023

Cyclone victims told to dig up Sky boxes or pay $260

Update 12/7: Sky has said today it will refund any cyclone victims that have already paid for their lost Sky Box. "If they get in touch we will sort it out immediately," Chris Major from Sky said.

People who lost all their possessions in the Cyclone Gabrielle floods were told by Sky to return their Sky Boxes or pay for them – even though they’ve been buried under silt or washed away.  

Five Hawke’s Bay flood victims have told us they were shocked to be told they’d have to pay $260 for the Sky Boxes that were damaged or missing when they cancelled their subscription.

Eskdale flood victim Luke O’Connell’s silt-ridden Sky Box (above and below).
Eskdale flood victim Luke O’Connell’s silt-ridden Sky Box (above and below).

Since being approached by Consumer NZ, Sky has said the advice given to flood victims was wrong and they shouldn’t be sending back their Sky Boxes or having to pay for them.

Retiree Judy Coker said she told Sky her house in the Napier suburb Awatoto had flooded up to the kitchen benches, and she wasn’t sure where the Sky Box was.   

“I did think it’s probably easier just to pay and not have the anxiety, but it was $260 we didn’t have, so I decided I’m going to have to find it,” Judy said.  

Judy got out a spade, dug into the mud where the TV had been and eventually found the decoder. “I sent it back absolutely covered in mud.”  

She said it had been hurtful after being a customer since Sky started. “They didn’t care how long I'd been with them; they just wanted their damn decoder back.”  

Geraldine Edmonds lived in Eskdale, where people lost their lives in the February flooding. After the cyclone, she called Sky to say she didn’t need to subscribe anymore as she’d lost everything and couldn’t watch TV. She said she was told she’d have to pay $260 for damaging the decoder.  

“I wasn’t in the right headspace to argue with them so I said, ‘Do what you will’.”  

It wasn’t until she tried to connect to Sky recently in her new home that she saw a charge for the old decoder on her bill.   

“I said to the woman on the other end of the phone that I’m not paying $260 for a decoder lost in a natural disaster. Everybody else I’ve rung has said, ‘Don’t worry, forget it’. They are the only people asking me to pay. Even the insurance companies are better than dealing with Sky.”  

Geraldine said she continues to pay her monthly bill and ignores the charge for the box. “It’s somewhere in the five feet of silt that was thrown out of the house.”  

Luke O’Connell and his young family lived next door to Geraldine before their house was washed nearly a kilometre down the road. He said he was recently contacted by a debt collector acting on behalf of Sky because he hadn’t sent back the box.  

“Most people would just suck it up and pay it because they press you pretty hard,” Luke said.  

He said the debt collection agency had stopped pursuing him once they realised his situation.   

Luke O’Connell's Sky box covered in silt.
Luke O’Connell's Sky box covered in silt.

Nicky Dockary also lived in Eskdale and says Sky is still hassling her to return her Sky Box, so had been planning to try and dig it up this weekend.   

“We know where the TV is because we can see the bottom of it sticking out of the silt, so I know the box is down there somewhere. It will be worth digging it up for $260.”  

She said she’d tried to explain on the phone that it would be covered in silt. “I told her the silt will all come out on your floor and there could be sewage in there, but she still wanted it. I said, ‘Why on Earth do you want it’ and she said the technicians would like to have a look at it.”  

Felicity’s elderly parents lived in Waiohiki, another suburb where the river burst its bank. She said they had the cost of two decoders taken from their account because they had a direct debit set up.  

She said her parents had been stressed and not in the frame of mind to fight the charge at the time. “They gave up in the end because they thought these guys are just going to get away with it.”

Sky responds

After we asked Sky to explain, chief corporate affairs officer Chris Major said Sky wanted to “remedy any of the individual experiences that have been raised ... as they sound out of step with the way we want to help our affected customers”.  

“Put simply, if a customer’s Sky Box has been damaged as a result of Cyclone Gabrielle, we do not expect it to be returned and we don’t want any of our customers to incur any further costs for it,” Major said.

Sky has call centres in New Zealand and the Philippines.

“At the same time as the January and February flooding events, we were in the process of setting up our new team to support the launch of the new Sky Box, and some of our newest team members would have still been in training,” Major said. 

We asked Major whether people should be claiming for the Sky Box if they had insurance. 

“We treat each request on case-by-case basis, so while we would discuss with a customer whether they have insurance, in which case the Sky equipment is usually covered, as is the case with most services where there is equipment in the home, our team members have the ability to waive charges depending on the circumstances,” she said. 

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