Orcon ordered to pay $25,000 after wrongly referring man to debt collectors.
A soldier whose life was thrown into turmoil when a telecommunications company wrongly referred him to debt collectors has won a long-running battle.
The Human Rights Review Tribunal has ordered Orcon to pay $25,000 to Brett James Taylor and train its staff about the company's privacy obligations.
Until the dispute was resolved, Mr Taylor said he and his partner Chloe Tasker, who have a young daughter, found it almost impossible to rent a home and get credit. It also threatened his career in the army.
Mr Taylor told the tribunal the experience was unsettling.
"What was really tough for me was not being able to provide a home for my family," he said.
But he never gave up the fight. "I had no choice but to keep up with this dispute because a debt in Baycorp is almost like a sentence. It would have affected my ability to obtain credit for five years," he told the tribunal.
"As a young family, we need to be able to gain credit. My credit rating also affects my position in the army, and advancements in rank."
Mr Taylor ordered a modem and broadband package from Orcon in early 2012.
He said he first received the wrong package, then a useless broadband and phone connection.
Mr Taylor and Ms Tasker tried repeatedly to get the right package, and Orcon told Ms Tasker it would waive the couple's charges.
But the couple received a bill for $138.90, and a letter saying their "services" would be blocked.
Mr Taylor said Orcon staff "ridiculed" him when he followed up and asked to speak with a manager. Instead, Orcon instructed Baycorp to recover $208.58 Mr Taylor was accused of owing.
Ms Tasker kept trying to resolve the issue and eventually Baycorp referred the disputed "debt" back to Orcon. But the tribunal said an "unexplained nine-month delay" followed during which Orcon failed to fix the issue.
In May 2013, 13 months after the couple first tried buying the Orcon service, the company offered a "goodwill credit" but demanded a $50.10 payment.
Five months later, Baycorp, on Orcon's advice, registered the "debt" with credit report provider Veda Advantage. Mr Taylor had relocated to Linton Army Camp and was looking for a rental property. The couple were rejected almost 20 times when applying for a home through estate agents.
The debt also damaged Mr Taylor's previously good relations with GE Money and he was denied credit.
In October 2013, an Orcon employee acknowledged Mr Taylor had been billed incorrectly.
By then, Mr Taylor had been told to go to Burnham Military Camp, while his partner and their daughter were "living in a very old and cold motel room," the tribunal said.
Orcon said its policy was to investigate any complaint over charges before alerting Baycorp.
The tribunal was not persuaded. "We observe this practice was not followed in Mr Taylor's case and no credible explanation has been given for this failure."
As no debt existed, the tribunal said Orcon provided Baycorp with "inaccurate and misleading personal information" in breach of the Privacy Act 1993.
"A disputed debt which then amounted to $50.10 led to a soldier serving in the New Zealand Army unable to find rental accommodation for his family," the tribunal said.
It awarded damages of $10,000 for the loss of a benefit. Orcon was also told to pay $15,000 for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings.
Orcon head of marketing Jeremy O' Hanlon said in an email the company could not discuss the case.