The Government's fumbling MIQ billing system has failed to catch more than $36 million in fees.
Newstalk ZB this week revealed invoices for close to 14,400 people weren't issued because of "incomplete or inaccurate data", despite these people having left managed isolation months ago.
There are also roughly 7800 returnees who officials have not been able to figure out whether, or how much, they should be charged.
Under questioning, Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins revealed he'll be sending debt collectors to track down money owed to the Government from returnees yet to pay.
National's Covid-19 Response spokesman Chris Bishop said it's "unbelievable" that so much money is missing. "The Government can't run a functional invoicing system – it's just crazy and is another example of the incompetence at the heart of the Government."
Bishop's target is a natural one, but his barbs are wide of the mark. The real villains in this are the people who have failed to pay. When a customer walks out of the door of a shop with goods they haven't paid for, do we blame the shopkeeper for not stopping them, or do we condemn the thief?
We have heard from some of these former guests of the taxpayers' hospitality, who said they tried to settle up on departure but were told an invoice would be sent out.
This makes sense in a quarantine facility. Why would we want people lingering around the lobbies while desk staff try to work out the room service dockets from the past 14 days (or seven, from this week)?
But that's not the end of their responsibility. Only a dishonest person would happily gain from a failure to follow up.
Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment MIQ joint head Chris Bunny says he takes the recovery of the money "very seriously".
"Fundamentally, it is taxpayers' money and people should repay what they owe."
He says the ministry intends to invoice all those it can and that process will be complete early in the New Year.
Those indebted - who beat thousands of others, desperate to get back into the country -should contact MBIE with their credit cards at the ready.