Big fight over water billing error

The eThekwini Municipality did not keep to some of the agreements it made during a meeting between the EPRM and DWS on January 11, 2024, including rectifying bills over R6,000, according to the EPRM. Picture: Jehran Naidoo / IOL

The eThekwini Municipality did not keep to some of the agreements it made during a meeting between the EPRM and DWS on January 11, 2024, including rectifying bills over R6,000, according to the EPRM. Picture: Jehran Naidoo / IOL

Published Jan 31, 2024


Durban — The eThekwini Ratepayers Protest Movement (EPRM) says that the eThekwini Municipality is moving with speed to have ratepayers affected by the free water billing error sign acknowledgements of debt (AOD) without consensus being reached in some cases.

Chairman of the EPRM, Asad Gaffer said the municipality did not resolve the cases where some affected ratepayers were charged more than R6000 for the free water they received between 2020 and 2023.

Gaffer also said the City acted against its own policy for Credit Control and Debt Collection.

The 2023/2024 edition of the policy indicates that debt accrued as a result of an administrative error should be classified as irrecoverable.

“As the ratepayers association, we are saying that this is pre-empted.

“We have not reached any resolution.

“They have not identified those people who have been charged more than R6,000. If you sign an AOD and you owe more than R6000 you will be signing for the full amount. The City has not acted in their (ratepayers) interest and not kept to its commitments. We have until the end of March to reach an agreement and should we not, we have no problem going the legal way,” Gaffer said.

Gaffer also said the City was acting against its policy of debt.

The EPRM’s comments come as the municipality this week released a statement indicating that the 49000 residents affected in the free water billing error must sign an AOD and settle the debt by making the R180 per month payments over a 36-month period.

The municipality said that residents affected by their error must visit the Sizakala Customer Care Centre to sign this agreement.

“The above conditions only apply to customers who were affected by water billing adjustments. Should customers fail to visit our Customer Service Centres and enter into a payment plan on or before the deadline, credit control and debt collection measures will come into effect,” spokesperson Gugu Sisilana explained.

The municipality made no mention of the bills in excess of R6000, which were going to be addressed by the municipality, according to Ian Govender from the Business Unit of the Department of Water and Sanitation.

Govender met with the EPRM on January 11, during which it was agreed that DWS was going to address the bills that exceeded R6 000, as there was no way to justify how some people affected by the error received such large bills.

The City back-charged for three financial years, starting in June 2020 and ending in July 2023, after it gave away free water through its indigent policy for years without noticing.

This allows people with homes valued at R250 000 or less to receive six kilolitres of water free every month.

But the City gave away free water, regardless of the value of homes and then asked those 49,000 people to pay for its error.

The City was also aware of this after the Auditor-General picked up that the municipality was losing millions of rands in revenue because it gave away free water.

During the January 11 meeting, a number of concerns raised by EPRM were going to be addressed, according to Govender, but just over two weeks later and it appears as though the City is forging ahead without delivering on its word.

Govender confirmed in the meeting that any bill over R6 000 would be rechecked by the municipality, as it was unjustifiably large, given that all affected parties were charged for the same amount of water.

When EPRM asked him why the City went against its policy, Govender also said the policy on debt recovery “is open to interpretation”.

At the eThekwini Municipality Full Council meeting, today (Wednesday) Active Citizens Coalition PR Councillor: Imtiaz Syed will put through a notice of motion requesting that the executive committee considers providing relief to some 49000 households affected by increased water tariffs billed erroneously in December 2023 and report its findings at the council meeting.

Syed said that an estimated 49000 households have been affected by this because the municipality has been billing erroneously for free basic water that was granted to them historically.

The 17th edition July 2023/2024 of eThekwini water and sanitation service levels standards section 5 under free basic water speaks to how this municipality should apply itself on the matter of free basic water.

Syed said that 6 kl of water should be given to households that are valued under R25000.00; households that are valued between R250000.00 and R650000.00 could apply for free water; all properties under 50 square metres in size should qualify for free water; indigent families living in higher value houses may apply to gain access to free water and all water meters connected to standpipes via a relevant flow meter shall be provided free of charge.

Syed said households that have been historically given free basic water are the subjects of this billing.

“Covid-19 pandemic compounded with the insurrection and floods has left many households wanting financially and otherwise and it should be the position of this council to grant relief to those very consumers who continue paying their bills diligently and not prejudice them further,” Syed said.

Syed said the eThekwini municipality has lost approximately 60% in revenue from water purchased from uMngeni Water.

This accounts for about R2-billion in the current financial year.

“Some 56% of water is currently lost in this city and some 46% of this is non-revenue water while still being granted its R1.5 billion grant for flood relief and infrastructure repair which is mainly water and sanitation and roads,” Syed said.

Syed requested that:

  • All households under R650 000.00 be relieved of the debt completely and be granted at least 3 months from date of notice to apply for free water as per the standard level standard.
  • All households occupied by indigent families be granted relief of the debt completely and 3 months from date of notice to apply for relief moving forward.
  • All households that fall out of the above two categories be billed 50% of the value of the service since 2020 payable over a period of 36 months without interest.
  • Relief of the debt completely for years from 2020 to current wherein their properties fell within the R650000.00 threshold.

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