Client: Privately held small business
Project: To collect $9,300 debt owed for a cemetery monument
Service: Debt Collection
Prior to founding Kaizen Enterprises, our principal, Ian James, collected more than 250,000 debts. Many of these were routine and small consumer debts, but some had particular elements that required creative thinking, as the cause of non-payment of the debt appeared intractable.
This case study is an example of rigorous research that enabled a solution to the problem which led to the debt being paid, and happily.
I was engaged by a Monumental Stonemason to recover $9,300 from a debtor who would not pay because the work undertaken had not complied with his specifications. The stonemason had erected a monument at Liverpool Cemetery in Sydney with a kerb height of 12 inches. However, the debtor had contracted for a kerb height of 15 inches, and stated that the height proportion had deep religious significance for his family.
The stonemason had simply followed the cemetery regulations, which required that graves be able to support a second burial in the same plot, without realising that the height had specific religious connotations. He had also failed to advise the customer of the cemetery regulations before commencing the work. The regulation was designed to ensure that the monument could be lifted by two men in the case of a second interment.
As the contract had required a 15-inch kerb, any court action against the debtor would likely fail as the specifications had not been met. To complicate matters further, the debtor was demanding that the stonemason remove the monument and refund his deposit of $2,000 if the kerb was not reinstalled at the required 15 inches. He would not accept a reworking of the existing kerbstone.
My challenge therefore was to find a way that the monument could be installed to meet the customer’s requirements, to enable payment of the debt, within the Act governing the cemetery.
To help determine whether this impasse could be resolved, I examined the legal situation regarding cemetery monuments. Preliminary contact with the cemetery trustee established that the monument was technically the maximum height allowable under the Crown Lands Consolidation Act 1913 (NSW).
Further research established that pursuant to the ‘Supplement to the New South Wales Government Gazette No. 25’,  issued on 10 March 1944 by the Department of Lands, the following regulations were applicable to the relevant section of Liverpool cemetery:
I then met the debtor on the basis that a mutually beneficial resolution might be possible. The debtor was appreciative of our approach as he was distressed that the burial had breached his deeply-held beliefs. I explained why the kerb had been installed at 12 inches and although he said he understood, he was unmovable in his requirement for the 15-inch kerbing. He had migrated from a country that had no such building restrictions and couldn’t comprehend the rules that prevented him from building any monument he wanted in Australia.
He agreed to pay the debt as soon as the monument complied with his initial requirements.
I set about looking for a suitable exception that would permit the Cemetery Trustee to waive the normal height requirements. In the course of my research, I discovered that the deceased had died from tuberculosis, which, as a serious communicable disease, made it illegal for the grave to be reopened. Therefore the height restrictions, which were designed to ensure that a monument was light enough to be lifted and removed by two men, were no longer applicable.
Based on this information and our interpretation of the law, I made representations to the Cemetery Trustee, who agreed that the height restrictions could be waived in this case. I then advised the debtor, who confirmed that he would pay the debt as soon as the monument met the original specifications.
The stonemason then removed the existing kerbing, which he could reuse, and installed the new kerb at the required height of 15 inches. The Cemetery Trustee issued a certificate of compliance with the regulations of Section 26 of the Crown Lands Consolidation Act 1913.
Within two days of the installation, the debtor paid the $9,300 in full, and included a note thanking me for my kindness.