Angry residents in the Auckland suburb of Kingsland want Vector to pay up after a power fault that caused tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage.
They say the lines company didn't seem to be taking any responsibility and was refusing to cover thousands of dollars in insurance excess and other costs.
For Matt Smith and his wife Louise McKenzie-Smith, their power nightmare began when they arrived home from work earlier this month to find four Vector trucks parked across the street, with a crew working on a transformer box opposite their Leslie Ave home.
"A Vector tech said we were getting 400 volts down our line due to a transformer fault- that day, when we were at work. It blew about $7000 worth of stuff on our property alone," Smith told the Herald.
Vector says it the fault was technically not a surge but rather involved "abnormal voltage" where some customers received higher than usual voltage and others lower.
Ten houses were hit by high voltage, said another Leslie Ave resident, Allison Stafford-Bush, who has co-ordinated efforts to get compensation.
In the Smiths' case, an automatic garage door, a dishwasher, microwave, heated towel rail and an extraction fan system were among the electronics that got fried.
Vector told the couple to make a claim with their insurance company. They did, and the early indications are that the insurance company will pay out.
However, the couple are left with a double-whammy of excess $250 for their home policy (which their garage door falls under) plus another $500 for contents (which covered damaged appliances). They will also lose a no-claims bonus of around $250 for each policy - meaning Vector's transformer bungle could cost them $1000.
They have also had to pay for an electrician to check that everything is safe in their home - which was completely rewired in a renovation just months ago.
Other homes in the street are in a similar position.
In one house, every appliance in a new kitchen was wrecked, another resident has said.
Stafford-Bush says her fridge and home alarm are repairable, but is still waiting for an assessment on the motor for her home's electric gate, which she is expecting will be a major bill.
One neighbour had their electronically-controlled ventilation system, alarm, ducted gas heating system, oven extractor fan, and Sonos speaker system wrecked. Another had their hot water cylinder knocked out. One home had their pool pump system fried.
One resident noticed their lights flashing on and off on the morning of the fault and contacted Vector. She was told to turn off power at the mains and her home subsequently avoided any damage.
Stafford-Bush says turning off power was not an option for most residents, however, as they were at work.
Stafford-Bush was disappointed at Vector's initial reaction, which she described as "push-back". However, she says the lines company's latest communication has been more constructive and she remains optimistic it will do the right thing and "cover costs and excess".
"That would be the ideal outcome".
She forwarded the Herald copies of her correspondence with Vector where the lines company initially said that the problems with multiple appliances at her home were not due to a fault on Vector's side and that she should retain an electrician to determine if there was "an internal issue".
The legal executive challenged that finding, saying it seemed too much of a coincidence that 10 houses had all suffered damage at the same time.
She then got a letter from a "customer resolution specialist" with the lines company on October 5 saying "Vector does not guarantee an uninterrupted electricity supply and Vector is not responsible for any damage caused by such fluctuations or outages".
"We can confirm a fault was reported on the network impacting a transformer, where our technicians attended and repaired the fault. Vector was unable, in this instance, to categorically identify the cause of the fault which could have been caused by external factors like tree branches hitting overhead lines, faults on another supply line, third party incidents such as car vs pole, bird strikes, transient voltages caused by customers switching loads or the use of heavy industrial equipment, lightning strikes on the power lines or transformers etc," the letter said.
A follow-up letter, which also went to other residents, said: "Vector operates its network and its maintenance programme in accordance with good electricity industry practice ... but we are unable to constantly determine the internal integrity of each one of the tens of thousands of distribution transformers we have on our network. It was not possible for us to predict or prevent this fault."
Matt Smith was also unimpressed with the October 11 letter and didn't think the way Vector had acted could be in any way described as good practice.
Will Vector have to come to the party?
Electricity is covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act. The law says the supply of electricity must be of acceptable quality, Consumer head of research Jessica Wilson says.
"When it's not – for example, when a fault causes a power surge that damages your appliances and those of your neighbours – you're likely to have grounds to seek compensation from your retailer," she said.
Does that mean the Leslie Rd families now have go through another round of phone calls and emails, this time to their power retailers?
Not according to Wilson.
"We think Vector should have informed the families they could take the matter to Utilities Disputes," she says.
"Utilities Disputes can deal with the complaint, without the families going back to their retailers," she said.
Utilities Disputes is a free, independent service run by The Office of the Electricity and Gas Complaints Commissioner.
"In one case heard by Utilities Disputes last year, a customer got a $5079 payment after a power surge caused damage to household appliances," Wilson says.
It was also wrong to send the Leslie Ave families to grapple with their insurance companies, the Consumer research head says.
"If there's a breach of the Consumer Guarantees Act, the retailers are liable. You don't have to claim on your insurance. Retailers can seek costs back from the lines company where the latter has caused or contributed to the breach."
Wilson said based on the information collected by Stafford-Bush, "We consider customers have good grounds for a CGA claim. Vector hasn't explained why it did not inform customers of their CGA rights."
Vector communications manager Elissa Downey told the Herald it had been in contact with "all affected customers to work through next steps," and was "working with insurance companies where appropriate to repair or replace damaged appliances".
She says in the Leslie Ave incident, "a distribution transformer developed an internal fault that meant its neutral connection broke and resulted in abnormal supply voltages to about 30 customers".
She said it wasn't a power surge.
"This type of failure is very rare. This meant some households connected to the transformer experienced low supply voltage, and some experienced high supply voltage.
"This lasted for approximately one hour, until Vector's technician arrived at the location and isolated the transformer."