Indebted Durban ratepayers are not taking advantage of the debt-relief programme being implemented by eThekwini Municipality to help them settle their outstanding municipal bills.
Lihle Ndzelu, head of the revenue management unit in the municipality, sounded the warning and urged struggling ratepayers to take up the opportunity.
The programme provides ratepayers whose accounts are in arrears with an opportunity to settle their bills, while also assisting the municipality to contain its ballooning consumer debt. The municipal debt is currently at R26 billion.
The benefit of taking up the programme is that residents could see the interest that has accumulated on the debt cancelled.
Ndzelu, speaking on the City’s communication platform, eThekwini Matters, said during the last round of the programme, there was no significant uptake in the initiative. However, he did not elaborate on what could be behind the lack of interest.
The municipality recently announced another window for the debt relief programme. It’s the third relief programme in two years.
The programme allows for the settlement of the outstanding debt over a maximum period of 36 months.
“The debt-relief programme came because we know that customers have situations where they would be affected by the economic situation of the country. Due to economic hard times, customers end up failing to pay their accounts on time.
“There was Covid in 2020, which really affected customers. Most of the customers lost jobs and some had their salaries cut. That resulted in the municipality’s debtors book growing, and at the end of September the municipality is owed R26 billion, which has to be recovered,” said Ndzelu, adding that council had decided to give relief to customers if they came forward and made payment arrangements.
However, Ndzelu said the municipality had not reached the numbers that it had expected to reach with the programme.
“For example, the last round that ended in February this year, only 6 000 came forward, 6 000 of 600 000 customers is (minuscule),” he said.
Ndzelu said they hoped that with this latest round, people would come in their numbers, adding that there had been a drive by the mayor, Mxolisi Kaunda, and the unit to encourage people to come forward.
He urged the community to go to Sizakala Centres and ask about the programme to get clarity on it, as it could make a lot of difference to their debt.
ActionSA councillor Alan Beesley said the slow uptake of the programme could be an indication of poor communication.
“The residents and businesses of eThekwini are under huge financial pressure as evident by the increased amounts owing to the municipality. The fact that only 6 000 people came forward to participate in the programme does highlight that the programme has not been properly communicated,” he said.