If you’re a first-time homeowner, you may find your municipal account more than a little confusing. Photo: Supplied

DURBAN - If you’re a first-time home owner, you may find your municipal account more than a little confusing.  

You might not be entirely sure what the terminology actually means, what you're being charged for and why - so Cosmopolitan has put together a basic guide to help you. 

Let’s start with why you receive a municipal account…

If you own a house or property and have access to electricity, water and waste removal services, you should receive a monthly bill from your local municipality for these various services, as well as the taxes you pay on your property.     

While no two municipalities issue identical bills or always use the same terminology, the basic information remains the same.  Always check your account and ensure that the details are correct. 

There are five main charges on your bill namely: 

1. Water – If you are on a metered account, all domestic water consumers receive the first six kilolitres of water consumed per month for free. Thereafter a stepped tariff per kl is charged by the council based on your metered water consumption. If you are on pre-paid water, there will be no water usage charge on your municipal account.

2. Sewerage or waste water.

3. Electricity – if you are on a metered account, you will receive a charge for this based on how much electricity you used.  If however, like most new households, you are on pre-paid electricity, there will be no electricity usage charge on your municipal account.

4. Refuse removal of solid waste

5. Rates and Taxes, also called assessment rates.

The account will give the homeowner a detailed breakdown of the total amounts payable including:

1. Basic services, also called availability charges 

Availability charges are a fixed amount charged to recoup the capital costs of delivering water, electricity and sewer connections to your property.  

2. Itemised consumption and adjustments for water and sanitation and refuse collection

Water is charged based on how much you use each month. If you are on prepaid electricity there will be no electricity charge on your account.

3. Assessment rates also known as rates and taxes 

The income generated by the levying of assessment rates is used by your municipality to provide services to the region such as libraries, roads, infrastructure and so on.  All property owners must pay rates and taxes from the day they become the registered owner, regardless of whether you live in the property or not.  It is your responsibility to open an account at council in your name and pay a consumer deposit.  

What happens on a property bought off plan at registration?

Rates and taxes 

In terms of rates and taxes on a new property that is built off plan, there are two ways that council will levy rates and taxes.  If at the time of registration of the property in your name, the council has not yet completed the property evaluations, you will be charged a ‘vacant land tariff’ which is slightly higher than the residential tariff.  Once the council completes the valuations, you will be switched to the residential tariff.  

Availability Charges for water, electricity and sewerage connections 

You will be charged for services that have been ‘connected’ to your property – such as water, electricity and sewerage connections. These are known as basic service or availability charges and they are a fixed rate each month.  Once your water meters are installed these charges will switch to a metered consumption and you will no longer be charged a basic fee, but charged for your actual usage based on the meter readings.  I