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October 1, 2018 | by  | in News |
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International Student Zapped With Obscene Electrical Charge

Concerns have been raised about fees in halls, after a student was charged $330 for basic electrical repairs.
The student, who preferred to stay unnamed, lives at Education House, a Willis Street Hall. In May, the power in her room spontaneously went out. She immediately informed hall administration; however, an electrician did not arrive until the afternoon of the following day. “He told me that the problem was with the main electrical box that was outside [the room],” she told Salient.
She asked what had caused the problem, hoping to avoid it in the future. “He asked me if I had been using the toaster and stove at the same time, I was like ‘I’m not an idiot’[…] He [didn’t] know what caused the problem, it just randomly happened.” The electrician flicked some switches on the mains, and power was restored, though her laptop charger (which had been plugged in but wasn’t attached to the laptop) was broken, and she had to pay $50 for a new one.
About two weeks later — long enough that she had forgotten about it — she was told by hall administration that she had to pay $330 for the repair. “I felt really really awful [and] shocked,” she said. “I wouldn’t think that it would go over $300 for flicking a few buttons, and they waited for several weeks to tell me.” Salient has seen the invoices and emails relating to this charge.
She paid as soon as she could and tried to forget it, feeling horrible. “I shed a few tears, especially when I called my parents and told them because it was a large amount and they had to give me the money, but I don’t think it was my fault.”
The student is particularly concerned that, as an international student, she’s more vulnerable to incidents like this. “I’m an international student, I don’t know if they’re overcharging me […] I don’t know the regular amount of an electrician’s visit here.” She also doesn’t know who to ask for help.

Salient talked to a number of electricians around the Wellington area. A fairly standard fee is $70 an hour, plus transport expenses (about $35) and the cost of any materials needed to fix the problem. The highest quote, $146, was less than half what the student was charged for this electrical fault.

“Page 14 of the student accommodation handbook makes clear students’ personal liability for their own chattels and examples of where costs may be incurred,” said Rainsforth Dix, Director of Student and Campus Living.
However, there is no procedure set out for cases where the cause of the damage is unclear or disputed.
The halls disagree with the student’s narrative of events. Though unwilling to explain why the electrician charged so much, Dix explained that “the electrician attended, noted that the laptop charger was smelling, and fixed the blown fuse”. He also said that the student was offered another room to stay in until the electrician arrived; according to the student, this offer did not come until 2pm the day after the outage, 30 minutes before the electrician arrived. According to Dix, the delay in the fee was because the electrician didn’t send the invoice, and not the fault of the hall.
VUWSA advocate, Erica Schouten, said, “if a student feels they’ve been treated unfairly by a hall they can escalate the matter to the Hall Manager. They can also come and see me – I can talk with them about their options, and if necessary help them make a complaint or come to meetings with them”.

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