DURBAN - AN UNEMPLOYED single mother of two, and her neighbours, in a low-cost residential area, have urged the eThekwini Municipality to fix its problematic billing system after they were slapped with exorbitant water bills.
As Lindiwe Ndlela complains of being ignored by city authorities regarding her water woes, political parties say the hefty utility bills had become an all-too-common topic in city corridors.
While the IFP put the blame squarely on the city’s Revenue Management Billing System (RMS), the DA pointed to several other reasons including what tariffs were being charged.
Claiming, along with her two neighbours, that the bills were not sent to them on a regular, monthly basis by the municipality, Ndlela said she was shocked to have received bills that had now reached hundreds of thousands of rand.
The utility bills, which The Mercury has seen, showed that for the month of December, the overdue amount sat at R452666.32, in January it shot to R499 372, and by February, the city claimed she had run up a bill of R539 691.74.
With respect to the month of February, the “month’s charges” are listed at R40 319.33.
“I find it hard to understand how I could have consumed so much water, especially since this is a government low-cost house, in which I live with only my 17-year-old and 3-year-old children. We don’t even have a car to wash,” she said, adding that the municipality had threatened to disconnect the family from the essential service.
During a visit to the area, between Kingsburgh and Folweni, The Mercury noticed the meter counter was running at an extremely high speed, but no water taps were currently being used inside.
The tiny yard does not have a garden or nursery, with Ndlela saying the three-member family only used water for cooking, washing and bathing.
An equally angry neighbour, Nomvuselelo Mgobhozi, said she had also been slapped with a bill of about R30 000.
A check with another neighbour, Busisiwe Manyathi, who said she lived alone, suggested that the problem could be widespread in Ward 109.
Municipal spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela said the city had not been made aware that the woes affected several other residents in the close-knit community.
Should there be other cases, Mayisela called on the aggrieved parties to seek help at the Sizakala Community Service Centres.
Although he was informed of Ndlela’s state of unemployment, Mayisela maintained that she had to get a private plumber to check for leaks.
“The running of the meter, when there is no water being used in the house and all taps have been closed, could signify a water leak at the customer’s residence, or there could be an illegal connection. We urge the customer to seek the assistance of a plumber.
“The customer was advised of the process to follow once the leak has been resolved, so that she can be assisted with the insurance claim. There have not been any further visits or responses from the customer,” said Mayisela. IFP executive committee (exco) representative Mdu Nkosi said: “The system (RMS) is the cause of these exorbitant water bills because we never experienced a situation like this under the (now defunct) Coin system.
“There have been glaring and continuous problems with the RMS system, yet the city has continued with it. Sadly, there are a number of families in uMlazi, Clermont, KwaMashu and other areas, who don’t even have swimming pools but are sitting with bills of R500000, R250000, R100 000, and they are not getting help,” said Nkosi.
“Most disturbing is that the city’s treasury department continues to deny that the system is a major cause of these challenges. When you check with the water department, they will tell you that even though they may be billing customers based on estimates, still they cannot estimate that a residential person can have a bill of R500 000. Until people say ‘enough is enough’ and talk with one voice against this system, they will continue to suffer,” said Nkosi.
When the system was introduced in
April 2019, the city stated: “There is no intention to dismiss queries regarding over-billing or to disconnect services. Should customers receive an excessively high bill, or if they are in arrears, the city encourages them to contact the city through various channels, or visit any of the Sizakala Customer Service Centres.”
The municipality had said high water bills could be the result of a leak, an incorrect meter reading, or a meter reading not having being conducted for a long period of time.
DA caucus leader Nicole Graham said: “This is definitely a big problem. Sometimes the cause is the billing system, and in other cases it is what departments are putting into the system.
“We discovered, in one month, that some people were being charged for commercial electricity – when they were residential consumers. Sometimes the wrong readings have been put in. Sometimes meters have not been read for too long.
“The resolution system is not that user-friendly. A lot of times, the customers’ interface system is not as effective as it should be,” she said.