Sunassist chases $50k: Charity claims Web Division walked away from deal

Sunassist service co-ordinator Ashley Van Niekerk and executive officer Richard Garlick say the organisation is $52,000 out of pocket after paying for a
new content management system which they claim Web Division has failed to deliver. Picture: Carmel Zaccone

Sunassist service co-ordinator Ashley Van Niekerk and executive officer Richard Garlick say the organisation is $52,000 out of pocket after paying for a new content management system which they claim Web Division has failed to deliver. Picture: Carmel Zaccone

A MILDURA web development business has not repaid more than $50,000 to volunteer organisation Sunassist after failing to finish a promised computer system that was meant to streamline the charity’s operations.

Sunassist paid Web Division Pty Ltd $52,965 between July 2014 and January 2016 but managers at the not-for-profit claim Web Division silently walked away from the project early last year, while the client management system was stuck in a trial phase, and ignored its requests for reimbursement.

Sunassist has more than 300 volunteers and provides transport, assisted shopping and meals on wheels services to elderly and disabled people across Sunraysia.

“It’s about five or six years’ worth of fundraising for us,” Sunassist executive officer Richard Garlick said of the amount paid to Web Division.

“We make about $7000 to $10,000 off our Rainbow Run and our motor show. Both of these events take about six months to organise beforehand and that’s with at least three of us here, plus our fundraising committee of about four people.”

Sunassist sought legal advice but was advised – after Web Division did not respond to letters from lawyers – that court action could cost $20,000.

Lawyers also warned Sunassist there was no guarantee Web Division had enough assets to repay the money.

“The thing is, it’s not my money – it’s the community’s money,” Mr Garlick said.

“It’s almost (equivalent to) two vehicles for our fleet that could provide more services for elderly and disabled people.

“We get on average 40 new referrals every month and we’re struggling to keep up.”

Service co-ordinator Ashley Van Niekerk said staff and volunteers were already frustrated with how long it was taking to implement the new program, called Comuni, when she began working at Sunassist in 2016.

Ms Van Niekerk said Sunassist was operating on a “stone age” system, having to take bookings, direct drivers to destinations and record client information manually.

Sunassist also hoped to eventually sell Comuni licences to other organisations, generating much-needed revenue.

Mr Garlick wrote to Web Division in May 2016 – more than two years after the deal was signed – requesting a full refund but the company insisted it would finish the work it was paid to do.

Sunassist paid $16,500 up front in August 2014, followed by monthly instalments of $2805 until January 2016.

At the start of February 2017, Web Division director Stuart Williams told Mr Garlick the system would be fully implemented that month.

Mr Williams was contacted by Sunraysia Daily yesterday but did not respond to questions by deadline.

Mr Garlick said he never received a reply to a March 2017 email he sent Web Division, asking for a progress update.

The Comuni website redirected to Web Division’s home page when Sunraysia Daily attempted to access the system yesterday.

Sunassist has since contracted another firm Asignit, founded by a former Mallee farmer, to develop a new system.

Mr Garlick said Asignit’s program was close to trial stage; the company having taken four months to complete the amount of work Web Division had done in four years.

Timmis had ‘limited knowledge’

INDEPENDENT state election candidate Steve Timmis said he became “aware of a dispute in the wing” between Sunassist and Web Division after he bought a share of the Mildura IT company but “didn’t even know what it was about”.

Sunassist was already chasing the $52,965 it had paid Web Division for a transport management software package it claimed was never finished by the time Mr Timmis bought into the company last year.

Mr Timmis only briefly owned part of Web Division, between late August and early November 2017.

By then, lawyers representing Sunassist had tried unsuccessfully to contact Web Division to seek recovery of Sunassist’s money.

“From my limited knowledge, it was a misunderstanding of what was supposed to be done and what was done,” Mr Timmis said.

Patrick McMahon, a listed director of Web Division who bought a share of the business from Mr Timmis, yesterday said he left the company “a couple of months ago” but declined to comment further.

Mr Timmis said he left Web Division after “a few differences of opinion on how things went”.

“It just wasn’t working for me,” he said.

“I was wanting to have an in-house IT arm to be able to produce websites and look after all that stuff.”

For more local stories, pick up your copy of Saturday's Sunraysia Daily, 22/9/2018. To subscribe to our Digital Edition, click here

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