Covid 19 coronavirus quarantine: Government grants thousands of fee waiver requests

Four out of five travellers requesting fee waivers are being granted free or reduced-price stays in New Zealand quarantine hotels.

As of March 14, the Government had accepted 3586 fee waiver requests and rejected 940, new Managed Isolation and Quarantine service figures showed.

Fee waivers could be granted to Kiwis who last left New Zealand before August 11, 2020, and planned on staying here for at least three months.

They could also be granted on compassionate grounds or cases of financial hardship as well as in exceptional circumstances for refugees, diplomats or those rescued at sea.

The free stays come on top of $3.2 million in overdue payments the Government is now being forced to chase up after travellers failed to pay their quarantine bills by the due date.

“Invoices are due to be paid 90 days from the date on the invoice, so they only become overdue from 91 days after the invoice date,” a Managed Isolation and Quarantine spokesman said.

“Once any invoices are overdue, they become a debt due to the Crown. The overdue amount is $3,211,704.”

The Government had sent $30.2 million worth of invoices to people who had stayed in managed isolation between February 28 and when fees were introduced late last year, the Herald earlier reported.

And, in good news for Government bean counters, more travellers had begun paying for their quarantine stays.

Last week the Herald reported only $10.7m worth of managed isolation stays had been paid for, equating to only one-third of those invoiced by the Government.

That number had now risen to $18.7m ,or closer to two-thirds of those invoiced.

The MIQ spokesman said travellers were sent reminders 60 days after their hotel stay.

That reminder included details of how to pay, how to apply for an instalment payment plan, and what to do if they considered they should be exempt from paying.

“After the due date a further letter will be sent requesting payment. This letter also contains details about how to apply for an instalment plan,” he said.

“If the person does not contact or pay, a decision will be made about the most appropriate course of action.”

These options included using a debt collection agency or the court to recover the cost.

“This decision will be made applying a consistent set of factors and would only occur after 180 days from when the invoice was issued, or when it is 90 days or more overdue.”

“The regulations in their current form do not empower us to charge interest or overdue fees.”

The decision to grant a 90-day window before payment was due was earlier met with criticism by some in the community.

Act Party leader David Seymour said: “I can’t believe that the Government is giving them 90-day terms. What are they, Noel Leeming?”

NZ Credit and Finance Institute director Owen Goodwin said he was “startled that there is that level of time lag between invoicing and payment”.

“I would have thought that when you leave a hotel you basically pay on the spot,” he said.

Auckland paediatrician Professor Innes Asher, who visited her son and his wife and young child in Sydney for Christmas, said she expected to pay the $3100 fee when she left the M Social quarantine hotel on the Auckland waterfront on January 12.

Instead she was told she would get an invoice. When the invoice had not arrived three weeks later, she emailed the ministry to ask for it.

“I was shocked, because we know how much it’s costing the country,” she said.

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