August 2022

MyRepublic wrongfully sends debt collector after customer

Telecommunications company MyRepublic took 17 months to admit fault after it failed to acknowledge the return of a rented modem.

It started in August 2020. Sarah* was a student, flatting in Wellington, when she signed up to broadband services with MyRepublic. She chose MyRepublic because she liked the flexibility of its month-to-month contract. As part of this contract, she rented a modem so she didn’t have to buy one.

Six months later she moved and decided not to renew her contract with MyRepublic. She and her dad, John*, mailed the modem back to MyRepublic in February 2021. Both Sarah and John “thought that was the end of it”.

In March 2021, MyRepublic emailed Sarah an invoice for $229.99 – the full retail price of the modem. According to MyRepublic, the modem had never been returned.

Confused, Sarah used MyRepublic’s online chat function to discuss the problem. She spoke with Emily*, a “Live Chat expert”, and told her about the issue. Emily took note of the tracking number for the modem and confirmed that it had been received. She removed Sarah’s payment details, stating that everything was “all good” and the fee would not be charged. Sarah left it at that, again believing this was the end of it.

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In June 2021, Sarah received an email from a debt collection agency. Commercial Credit Control advised Sarah it was chasing a $229.99 debt she apparently owed to MyRepublic. Sarah was “pretty stressed” about this. Not only did she not owe any debt to MyRepublic, but Sarah was 20, in her last year of study and working part time, so paying the debt would be “the difference between paying rent and being able to eat food”.

Sarah sent the debt collection agency a transcript of her chat with Emily, hoping to show that she owed nothing to MyRepublic. Commercial Credit Control acknowledged the transcript and contacted MyRepublic for confirmation that it could revoke the debt. Sarah never heard back.

Unfortunately, it would take nearly a year for Sarah to realise that the issue still hadn’t been resolved by MyRepublic.

By May 2022, Commercial Credit Control hadn’t received a response. Yet MyRepublic had sold the debt to another debt collection agency, Debt Managers. This agency emailed Sarah in May this year, telling her it intended collecting the debt she owed to MyRepublic.

Sarah decided it was time to ask her dad for help. John called Debt Managers to explain the situation but the next day, the company told Sarah one of its agents was in her area and would be coming to her house. She felt relieved that she no longer lived at that address, but she was still “terrified” about the prospect of a home visit by a debt collector, especially because she didn’t owe the money.

Despite several attempts to contact MyRepublic, Sarah and John got no response. So John contacted Consumer NZ’s advice line. We told him about the Telecommunications Dispute Resolution (TDR) service, which independently helps resolve issues between consumers and telecommunications companies.

John filed a complaint on Sarah’s behalf against MyRepublic. After the complaint was lodged, MyRepublic finally got back to John to confirm that Sarah shouldn’t be on the debt collector’s list and that it had waived the unreturned modem fee.

However, MyRepublic didn’t acknowledge that the modem was indeed returned, nor did it give John and Sarah an explanation as to why her case had slipped through the cracks. After requesting an explanation and attempting to contact MyRepublic’s board of directors, with little success, John and Sarah finally received an apology.

MyRepublic admitted there had been a gap in its internal processes. A spokesperson said, “we have learnt from this and we’ll do better for our customers”. Responding to John and Sarah’s request for compensation, MyRepublic said that because Sarah was no longer a customer, it was its policy that she could not be compensated.

Sarah says the response from MyRepublic was “a bit of a gut punch”. Both she and John think it wasn’t good enough, even against MyRepublic’s own standards. On its website, MyRepublic claims its vision is to be the “largest enabler of deep, meaningful and trusted relationships between customers and their products”. Yet for Sarah and John, this obviously wasn’t the case.

Sarah said she felt that “without the support of [her] dad, it would have been a very different situation that [she] had ended up in”.

With help from her dad and the TDR, Sarah was able to get her problem sorted, but she knows there may be others out there in similar situations who, after being threatened with a home visit, might be scared enough to pay debts they don’t owe.

Sarah and John want others to know that customers of any telecommunications company can complain to TDR if the company is registered with it. You can check here to see which telecommunications companies are registered with the service. If you’re a Consumer member, you can access our Advice Line for support. Other organisations, such as Citizens Advice Bureau and Community Law, can also help you out if you find yourself in a situation like Sarah’s.

*Names are pseudonyms

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