Consumers still in the dark on how they’re billed for their electricity

What a three phase meter should look like and is currently used to record electricity consumption at residential units inside Kwabapede residential estate in Poortview. Picture: Steve Lawrence

What a three phase meter should look like and is currently used to record electricity consumption at residential units inside Kwabapede residential estate in Poortview. Picture: Steve Lawrence

Published Sep 3, 2023


IF you are a prepaid electricity user, you have probably wondered how your electricity bill works, and might be interested in knowing more about your consumption and whether you are getting value for your money.

When the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) introduced Incline Block Tariffs (IBT) back in 2010, the aim was to protect lower-usage residential customers against the high price increases, as well as to encourage heavy users to reduce their electricity usage.

However, the system has proven to be confusing for consumers, with many still unsure as to why the cost of electricity seems to change in price at different times of the month.

This is especially the case among prepaid customers, who notice that as they top up towards the end of the month, they receive fewer units for their money.

Residents across various areas in the country have raised their concerns and frustrations pertaining to their electricity meters.

One such resident is retired nurse, Adelaide Kgatlho from Pimville, Soweto who lives with her son who is completing his studies in Electrical Engineering.

“I would top up my meter with R400 and get just 168.80 kWh of units. I am not sure if the time of the month on which I top up makes a difference but it is a problem for me,” said Kgatlho.

Energy specialist Tladi Seetlo said practising good energy efficiency habits can help households through the country’s energy crisis.

“On prepaid, never buy more than you’ll need in a single month. It’s a bit trickier for post-paid customers to gauge the amount of electricity consumed during the month, unless they pay careful attention to the meter.

“That said, practising good energy efficiency habits such as using LED lights and keeping the lights off when not needed, managing the geyser, as well as using alternative forms of heating rather than electric heaters, can help households manage their electricity usage,” said Seetlo.

One thing consumers need to remember is that rates are not the same for the whole country.

Different parts of the country and suppliers charge different rates for electricity, so it is important to pay careful attention to how much electricity costs per unit for your particular address.

Seetlo said, for example, according to the City of Cape Town website, the city has a three-tiered tariff structure.

The lowest tier is known as the Lifeline tariff for “prepaid customers with limited means”, whose property is valued below R400,000, and whose consumption does not exceed 450 kWh a month.

“In accordance with the City’s 2022 to 2023 tariffs, these customers get up to 25 or 60 units free, depending on average consumption. Above that, up to 350 units a month, they pay R1,80 per unit, inclusive of VAT; and from 350 to 450 units, they pay R3.63 per unit.

“Should they use more that 450 units a month, they would move to the next tier – the Domestic tariff. They would pay R2.98 per unit for the first 600 units, and R3.63 for additional units. They must be on prepaid and their municipal property evaluation must be between R400,000 and R1-million.”

For those who don’t qualify for either of those tiers, there’s the Home User tariff for properties valued above R1-million who might also be on post-paid rather than prepaid electricity.

They pay a rate of R2.63 for the first 600 units, and R3.63 for further units. They also pay an additional service charge of R212.75.

Comparatively, the City of Johannesburg offers a different tiered system and rates for their prepaid and postpaid customers.

Prepaid customers are split into three blocks – the first is limited to 35o kWh, the second up to 500 kWh and everyone above that falls into the third block. The VAT-inclusive rates also differ per block, at R2.01, R2.40 and R2.73 respectively.