Court threat over cut in water quota

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Ratepayers’ organisations say they will go to court to challenge the eThekwini municipality’s decision to scrap the 9kl of free water all residents have enjoyed.

Last week, the municipality announced that it was doing away with the monthly fixed charge of R102.27 on water connections and that only ratepayers whose properties were valued at less than R250 000 would qualify for the free water.

Lillian Develing, of the Combined Ratepayers’ Association, said ratepayers had been angered by the city’s proposal and were exploring legal avenues to challenge it.

“The municipality is trying to find different ways to squeeze everybody wherever they can,” she said.

North Durban Ratepayers’ Association chairwoman Irene Reid said her concern was for pensioners living in affluent neighbourhoods.

“They worked all their lives to get to where they are today and now they are being penalised. It is again evident that the minority are subsidising the majority.”

Municipal water and sanitation department head Neil Macleod said free basic services were intended to benefit poor people.

He said in a recent case, the Constitutional Court had ruled in favour of Johannesburg Water and had said that the quantity of free water for poor people could only be decided by municipalities.

Macleod said the policy of free basic water had started in the Durban metro in 1997 and had become national policy after 2000.

The motivation had been to allow poor people a basic supply of water, while families living in high-value homes were levied a fixed charge once consumption passed 9kl.

Difficulty

Macleod said an analysis showed that most beneficiaries of the free water in high-value properties were owners of properties occupied by few people, “who cannot be defined as poor given the property values involved”.

“In saying this, I do accept that there will always be people who should qualify for access to free basic water because of their circumstances, but who live on properties valued at more than R250 000,” he said.

According to Macleod, the city used property values as a proxy for household income. He said doing income surveys to determine a family’s ability to pay for services was fraught with difficulty, prone to corruption and expensive.

He added that the council policy made provision for indigent families living on properties valued above R250 000 to receive free water if an application was made to the municipality and was supported by the ward councillor and a social worker.

Water Affairs Department spokesman Mava Scott echoed Macleod’s sentiments.

“If eThekwini decides that R250 000 is their benchmark for the poor, and it is covered in their bylaws, they can implement it,” he said.

Scott said regulations gazetted in terms of section 10 of the Water Services Act stipulated that there should be a basic volume provided free for the poor.

The national norms and standards set the basic volume at 6kl a household a month.

Scott said consumers could challenge the proposal, but they would have to prove that they were poor and unable to pay for their water. - The Mercury


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