“How much do I owe? Sir Ian Taylor sued by debt collector over MIQ bill

November 1, 2021: Sir Ian Taylor’s government-approved self-isolation pilot begins as he flies to Los Angeles and San Francisco and returns to Aotearoa without taking up space in an overloaded MIQ system. Video / Dean Purcell

The Government may still regret placing a debt collector on Sir Ian Taylor. Last month the Dunedin businessman received an email, then a text and a phone call from a debt management agency saying he owed $821.44 for his solitary confinement trial self-organized home after returning from the United States in November last year.

Taylor, who owns sports graphics company Animation Research, thought he was running his 151 Off The Bench trial alongside the official government trial of 150 businessmen to show how it could be done, using cutting-edge technology and good planning.

But no, the government thought otherwise. Taylor was part of the 150-person lawsuit – which turned out to be just 76 people – so pay up, the debt collector said. Taylor’s first response was, “God, sorry, I thought that was already paid for.”

That was until he had a chance to think about the matter a bit more, as Taylor tends to do. What exactly was he paying, he wondered, remembering the comedy of errors at the trial which a fellow businessman described as “like Fawlty Towers”. It was worth a laugh, Taylor felt, but not $821.44.

So this week, Taylor penned a “please explain” letter to the debt collector, copying Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall, who will no doubt sigh deeply. They are well used to Taylor not staying in his box.

Sir Ian Taylor has written to debt collector and CC'd Finance Minister Grant Robertson to query his $821.44 self-isolation trial bill.  Photo/Mark Mitchell
Sir Ian Taylor has written to debt collector and CC’d Finance Minister Grant Robertson to query his $821.44 self-isolation trial bill. Photo/Mark Mitchell

Did Taylor pay for the three saliva tests he had to undergo in solitary confinement, the results of which were never obtained, he asked? He couldn’t help but point out in his letter that “despite the $60 million contract awarded to a Canadian company, the saliva testing never took place.”

What happened to that contract, that $60 million, he asked? A New Zealand company, Rako Science, was rejected for the same contract, gave him saliva tests during his 10-day isolation and delivered the results the same day, he said. Just say.

Or did the $821.44 cover the cost of the shuttle that picked him up to take him for a PCR test on the last day? It worked, but what about the three emails he received – one hour after taking the test, the next day and three days later – asking him to explain why he hadn’t gone taking his PCR test and saying he should stay isolated until he does?

Why, he asked Robertson and Verrall, was he told to show up for a PCR test at 2:04 a.m. with no instructions on how to get there? As Taylor says in his letter, a colleague drove himself to take a test after receiving a notification at 2:08 a.m. and was later reprimanded for breaking the rules.

After being taken for a nasal swab PCR test, Sir Ian Taylor received three messages asking why he never showed up.  Photo/Alex Burton
After being taken for a nasal swab PCR test, Sir Ian Taylor received three messages asking why he never showed up. Photo/Alex Burton

He hadn’t bothered government departments much during his self-directed solitary confinement trial, he pointed out.

“Cross Sector Border Group arranged my accommodation, meals, a range of Covid tests which were delivered throughout the trial period and a real-time health monitoring system overseen by (John) Doc Mayhew .The MBIE equivalent was a pdf sent every morning that actually didn’t arrive one of the days.”

And did the $821.44 also cover the app that was supposed to link his location to a phone call that didn’t work three times on the first day?

“Instead, someone in uniform showed up holding a phone in their hand just as I was about to go to bed and asked me to speak to the next person. end of the line to assure him that I was standing in front of the man holding the phone.”

To be fair, the app worked the next day, he said.

“But we were using technology that could have given MBIE my location every two minutes. We offered it but the offer was declined.

“If you could please let me know exactly what this bill actually covers (please do not include any admin or planning as this was sorely lacking) and when you think I might finally receive the results of the 60 million canadian saliva test dollars, I will be happy to reconsider that payment,” Taylor said in her letter.

“My math, if you were to charge anything, would be two PCR tests and transportation from the airport plus transportation to the testing center – which I took even though MBIE seemed to be struggling to find a trace of me taking the test at the time.”

Sir Ian Taylor has apologized for the delay in dealing with the debt, saying he was busy helping organize the country's supply of rapid antigen tests.  Photo/Brett Phibbs
Sir Ian Taylor has apologized for the delay in dealing with the debt, saying he was busy helping organize the country’s supply of rapid antigen tests. Photo/Brett Phibbs

Taylor apologized for the delay in responding to the bill, saying he had been “pretty busy” lately working with private companies dealing with issues related to MIQ, rapid antigen tests, lamp, as well as helping with 65 million RAT orders for the Government through Kudu Spectrum.

“I was also involved in helping the supply chain of RATs which will now be offered for sale at Foodstuffs – at cost. Not to mention delivering 2,000 Lucira tests and 30,000 RAT tests – free of charge – to Tonga”.

When he received the message from the debt collector, he even wondered if the government had made a mistake and lost his payment.

“They managed to lose $36 million in MIQ bills, so I thought that was another mistake,” he laughed.

Taylor said he carried out his self-isolation plan with Team 151 to help the government come up with a safe plan for business people who were in desperate need of getting in and out of the country. Although he visited two clients when he was in the United States, the conversations could have been over the phone.

“There was no business advantage.”

His vision was that if he proved the self-isolation plan worked and was safe, New Zealanders could have traveled on business from December last year. But that never happened. From Taylor’s perspective, he thinks he’s completely reasonable about the debt.

“I will foot the bill once I know what I am paying as I am still awaiting the results of the three saliva tests.”

• Since the publication of this story, Sir Ian Taylor’s accountant has informed him that the $821.44 account was paid in full last month. Taylor has written to Grant Robertson and Ayesha Verall that he is debt free.

Tana T. Thorsen