27 Jun 2023

Māori power company Nau Mai Rā under fire as consumers shocked by sharp rise in bills, communication failures

From Checkpoint, 5:11 pm on 27 June 2023

Customers with huge electricity bills are being left in the dark, unable to connect with their provider Nau Mai Rā as the invoices keep rolling in.

The business launched in 2019 as the first kaupapa Māori power company in Aotearoa and had been praised for using its company profits to help struggling customers pay their power bills.

But now some have tripled, and customers want to know why.

Nau Mai Rā customers are billed weekly and the money comes out via direct debit.

One customer, Wiki, noticed something was wrong when her weekly bill suddenly shot up to $275.

"One week our power was ridiculous, it was $275. I don't know how. We're a low-income family so it didn't go out and we were overdrawn in our account. Then the next week they tried to take out even more. At the end of the month, we had $1596 owing."

Wiki said her most expensive bill with her last company, Transpower, was $350 per month.

After paying a $1700 bill to Nau Mai Rā, two weeks later she was hit with another huge debit. 

"I thought holy heck, $1200, how did we accumulate that much in two weeks."

It was a similar story for Meisha who said her bills were reasonable when she joined Nau Mai Rā in November.

But then she racked up an invoice for $350 for one week in April.

"It was high as, I thought what the? We've only got one TV in the house so I don't understand. We just use that to watch TV. My kids have a phone but that won't use heaps. I've minimised as much as I can, because I thought it was myself."

Trying to query the amount with the company also proved tough.

Pare, who was with Nau Mai Rā for a year, noticed her direct debits were not coming out in October. This left her owing $900, so she emailed them.

"No one replied, I emailed their website, messaged their Facebook page, the Facebook page told me to call a number. I called their number, no reply, I left messages, that was ongoing for six months and I heard nothing."

The company requested customers contact their customer service line, which it referred to as 'Aunty'.

Pare said Aunty told her to pay off the debt at $100 per week or go somewhere else. 

She has now left Nau Mai Ra and pays less. 

"We pay $20 a week to our new company. We used to pay $30, $50, $90 and $100 a week to them [Nau Mai Ra]."

Wiki said she tried calling for a week and was unsuccessful with speaking to anyone.

"You're on hold for 22 minutes and then the phone call ends. You go to book a call, with the so-called Aunty. She was supposed to call me today, it's 2.17pm, she was supposed to call at 1pm and it was like that last week."

Nau Mai Rā told its customers on Facebook it needed to double its team to keep up with demand.

Customer Wiki said the company needed to answer questions.

"You're saying you're for the people when in actual fact you are making your people struggle, you're making them go through more hardship with Work and Income. You're making it high cost for them, you're just making all of them struggle."

'We really do care' - power supplier 

Nau Mai Rā co founder Ezra Hirawani told Checkpoint it was heartbreaking to hear the customers' stories. 

"We really do care, and we are trying our best to support all our whānau, which contradicts the way they're feeling, and their feelings are most important." 

Hirawani said Nau Mai Rā was struggling to keep up with the demand of all of the people needing support. 

When asked about customers who said they had had huge increases in their bills, Hirawani said meter issues could be the culprit, or incorrect billing periods. 

"There's multiple reasons why a bill in particular, could be more, or even less than what it should be," though Hirawani admitted some of the increases customers had reported were unacceptable.  

"There is no way, any given whanāu should be experiencing three times an increase on their power bill." 

He said Nau Mai Rā was working on increasing the size of its customer service team to deal with the extra demand.