Cashing in on MIQ: Online business charging desperate returnees more than $350 to secure a spot
New Zealanders are paying a website operator more than $350 to secure a spot in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) so they can return home.
The MIQ Helpers website finds and holds MIQ spaces for customers for 48 hours while they search for corresponding flights.
The service requires customers to provide their email address and password used to log in to the Government’s MIQ booking website, giving MIQ Helpers access to customers’ passport details and date of birth.
The site is run by Aaron Athfield, who also owns Ceefa Software, which claims to have done work for the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE), the Government agency responsible for administering MIQ.
* Covid-19: Businesses should plan for borders being closed in two or three years time, Rob Fyfe says
* Covid-19: How New Zealand might reconnect with the world after nearly 500 days locked down
* Air NZ brings back long-haul routes it suspended early on in Covid-19 pandemic
In email correspondence with one customer Athfield says he invited MBIE to a presentation about the company and the “applicant management system” it’s developed in order to determine whether it breaches MBIE regulations that forbids software from scanning or operating its website.
MBIE is yet to responded to specific questions about whether it is a customer of Ceefa Software and if it was invited to a meeting with Athfield.
In an email response to Stuff, Athfield said he would provide written answers to questions by July 23.
“You’ve caught us at a really critical design and development phase just at the moment.”
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins referred Stuff to MBIE for comment about what was being done to address difficulties faced by people trying to secure a place in MIQ and what was being done to stop third parties securing MIQ slots ahead of individual returnees.
MIQ joint head Megan Main said people were allowed to pay someone else to monitor the website for them.
“We take this very seriously.”
After a period of low demand in April, May and early June, demand for MIQ vouchers has now soared, with people unable to secure spots until November.
In late June, Main said more rooms were yet to be released for August, September and October, and she advised people to keep checking the system for available dates.
Until recently MIQ Helpers offered a fully refundable success fee if customers decided not to go through with a reservation.
Now customers would get only 50 per cent of a success fee refunded if they decided to cancel.
In an email to customers Athfield said MIQ Helpers had revised its refund policy “to better reflect the current environment and the work required to secure MIQ reservations”.
Travel agents are also referring customers to the site.
Travel Managers agent Megan Lowish said she had been aware of the website for a couple of months and had four clients successfully use the service.
“I will continue to recommend my clients get help from MIQ Helpers.”
Her feedback is posted on the customer feedback section of the MIQ Helpers website.
Stuff is also aware of a travel agent from HelloWorld introducing a client to Athfield directly.
Travel Agents’ Association New Zealand president Brent Thomas said agents recommending third party MIQ booking services to clients was a choice for individual agents and their customers to take up.
He said a “significant amount” of agents helped clients through the MIQ booking process.
“It’s a laborious process the way it’s set up.”
He said there appeared to be capacity in MIQ that was not being made available.
“The question is why is the Government restraining the number of people coming through.”