Johannesburg - Parktown Boys’ High, a school with 840 pupils, including boarders, has been threatened with an electricity disconnection after receiving three bills totalling almost R2 million.
The school bursar, Cindy van Druten, is at her wits’ end, saying the accounts are in a mess. “Everything was fine until last year, when we got a huge account for water and electricity. We have carried on paying what we normally do and have never defaulted. Now we are getting pre-termination notices on these accounts.”
The electricity bill amounts to just over R1m and the water account to R350 000.
There is a further account in the name of the Parktown Boys’ High Foundation for R680 000.
To make matters worse, the city sent one of the arrears bills to the education department without telling the school, and the department has subsequently withheld an education grant amount of R67 000.
“The council didn’t tell us, and didn’t inform the department that this bill was under dispute. Now we fear that this year’s grant of R400 000 will be paid over to the city instead of to us, for what they are claiming are arrears, but which we don’t owe,” said Van Druten.
The city wants the school and its board to enter into an arrangement to pay the arrears but the school is reluctant to.
“We had a meeting and after reviewing our figures, we don’t believe we owe these amounts. But we are living in fear of our services being terminated. We cannot afford to have no water and electricity when we have 840 boys on the premises and boarders we have to feed, and who have to wash,” she said.
The school has made several attempts to try to sort out the accounts, including a string of e-mails and visits to Thuso House in Braamfontein, to no avail. “Staff members acknowledged there are problems in the billing department.”
Revenue department spokesman Stan Maphologela said that after investigating the accounts he found that two were in arrears and pre-termination notices were issued. The school’s payment record reflects regular yet underpaid consumption, he said.
“Although calls were logged, the queries were all resolved, except for the electricity account, which is still under investigation. The water account was confirmed to be correct and the customer was engaged on this matter on more than one occasion,” he said.
The city has now flagged all the accounts, meaning there will not be a cut-off, while they are “busy finalising our investigation into the said accounts.” Customers, said Maphologela, should note that they have to engage with the city when a pre-termination notice is received in order to avoid being cut off.
“Furthermore, customers should note that although a query has been logged and a reference number is obtained, it does not mean that is the end of the customer’s responsibility to pay for services. Customers should follow up on a regular basis and continue to pay average on their consumption on all services while waiting for the outcome of the logged query. The city will inform customers as soon as their queries are resolved or should there be discrepancies found, the account will be adjusted accordingly,” he said.