Residents want eThekwini Metro to take responsibility for billing error

A calculator and a pen rests on a page filled with numbers

A billing error by the eThekwini Municipality has resulted in thousands of ratepayers being charged for water bills dating back to 2020. File Picture: Pixabay.

Published Dec 28, 2023

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Ratepayers are demanding that eThekwini Municipality write off the water debt that accrued as a result of a billing error when the municipality supplied “free water” to homes that did not quality.

The ratepayers said they would not take the blame for municipal incompetence.

Thousands of homes have received a “demand” to pay for water erroneously received after the municipality had provided free basic water to homes valued above R250 000 that do not qualify to receive the benefit.

The matter dates back to 2020.

‘The Mercury’ reported last week that residents now owe the municipality thousands.

One municipal bill showed that a homeowner now owed the municipality more than R4 000 as a result of this error and has to pay more than R400 each month to settle the bill.

Teddy Govender of the Chatsworth Ratepayers Association said they would be calling for the debt to be written off.

“The incompetence and corruption by many in the eThekwini Municipality is obvious.

“We will call for a write-off. They have succeeded in bringing a thriving municipality to its knees. So a write-off will be our demand.”

Ish Prahladh, eThekwini Ratepayers and Residents Association chairperson, said they would demand the debt be written-off as mistakes by the municipality should not be the problem of residents.

In a letter addressed to the Chief Financial Officer, Dr Sandile Mnguni, the eThekwini Ratepayers Protest Movement demanded more clarity on the billing.

It demanded their members who are on a debit order not be charged this amount until such time the dispute is resolved between the ratepayers and municipality – or a court rules on this matter. It added that it also had other concerns regarding the bill.

“What happens when the property has changed ownership, and the present owner was not the owner when the mistake occurred?

“Please meet us to avoid us having to approach the courts … if we are forced to (do so), the costs for such will be for the account of the municipality,” it said.

Asad Gaffar, chairperson of the movement, said they were seeking a legal opinion.

Gaffar said the decision to call for the debt to be written write-off would depend on engagements with the City.

The ratepayers body made it clear last week that it intends to fight the matter should it not be resolved in a satisfactory manner.

A DA councillor, in a statement, said the DA believed the amount should be written-off; residents should not bear the brunt of poor administration , especially at this time of the year when there has been an increase in interest rates and a decline in service delivery.

ActionSA leader Zwakele Mncwango said the billing was tantamount to robbery.

“We will not allow such robbery to occur under our watch.”

Mncwango joined the chorus calling for a debt write-off.

“We will question the speaker of the municipality about the matter post-recess and request answers on how this could go on for years without detection, and call on him, the city manager, and the chief financial officer to write off the debt.”

The municipality has said the debt must be paid. It extended apologies to all affected consumers.

Spokesperson Mandla Nsele said due to a technical error, about 49 000 out of the 514 000 billed accounts were credited with free water – that was what the City would be recovering.

The Mercury