eThekwini residents complain of high utility bills: Some are in the red for R5 000 while others amount to hundreds of thousands of rand

Councillors claim the ‘flawed billing system’, estimated readings, and payments not being captured on time, were contributing to the exorbitant bills. Picture: File Image

Councillors claim the ‘flawed billing system’, estimated readings, and payments not being captured on time, were contributing to the exorbitant bills. Picture: File Image

Published Nov 24, 2023


A ‘FLAWED billing system’ and estimated readings are being blamed for the high utility bills slapped on eThekwini residents.

Ward councillors said they were inundated with complaints and queries about the light and water bills, with some claiming to be dealing with up to 200 complaints from irate residents a month.

Some residents are in the red for R5 000, while others are sitting with utility bills of hundreds of thousands of rand.

Councillors claim the ‘flawed billing system’, estimated readings, and payments not being captured on time, were contributing to the exorbitant bills.

Ward 50 councillor in Phoenix, Lyndal Singh, said at a time when everyone was feeling the economic pinch, utility bills were soaring to all-time highs.

“The Revenue Management System (RMS) is flawed and the billing system is delayed. Most times residents have to phone or go to municipal offices to find out what their actual bill is. No proper readings are being done by the municipality and the estimated charges are questionable. Even when residents submit their actual readings to the municipality these are not recorded timeously,” said Singh.

She added that the frequency of water and electricity outages in the Phoenix area, also made the bills questionable.

“Most days in the month we either do not have lights or water or both. So how is the (high) billing constant, with no changes?”

Verulam councillor Johnson Chetty, of Ward 106, said he was aware of several residents with ‘astronomical’ bills.

“These residents are unfortunately now tied into signing credit agreements in a bid to prevent their services from being cut. Water meter readings have not been done in Verulam since April/May because the service providers contract has not been updated. The estimated readings are also compounding the problem.”

Dolly Munien, Ward 61 councillor in Tongaat, said most of the complaints she dealt with were from pensioners.

“They get a monthly pension of R2 000. How are they expected to pay utility bills of R5 000 or R15 000? I even had one bill for R300 000.”

She said residents who received the high bills were given a grace period from October 1 to December 1, to put down a 5% payment.

“The agreement is that the municipality would then write off the interest and the outstanding monies needed to be paid within 36 months,” said Munien.

She said unfortunately not all residents were aware of this ‘grace period’ and suggested that the municipality extend it.

“Sadly, the other reality is that the pensioners cannot afford a 5% down payment. This will not work for them. The bills are questionable and the municipality needs to have proper mechanisms in place to ensure the readings are captured correctly. They are efficient when it comes to disconnections. The same should apply to the readings,” she added.

In February this year, a report tabled before the municipality’s finance committee indicated that more than 65 000 meters across the eThekwini Municipality had not been read for more than a year, highlighting the extent of the problem.

IFP councillor Jonathan Annipen said the estimated readings only exacerbated the already ‘flawed billing system’.

“Since 2016 when the RMS billing system was introduced it has been fraught with irregularities. There have been innumerable complaints about irregular calculations and erratic billing patterns,” he said.

“Where residents have installed solar, boreholes and JoJo tanks, and should be saving, their bills remain unchanged. This is because the meters have not been read for over a year. By the time the municipality does read those meters, the customers will still be at a disadvantage because the municipality will calculate the monthly average usage, which will not be the exact amount consumed by residents,” added Annipen.

eThekwini Municipality spokesperson, Gugu Sisilana, confirmed the previous meter reading contract had expired but said they were in the process of signing a new one.

“It is in its final stages of the procurement process. All efforts are being made to ensure that we have a valid contract in place for the meter readings to be done and for customers to be billed on actual readings monthly.

“In the interim, accounts are being estimated based on the previous three months' consumption. But, as soon as the contract is in place all estimates will be reversed and the actual readings will be used for billing purposes on all the affected accounts during this period.

“Be that as it may, customers are continuously being billed using estimated charges as per their respective consumption history. Alternatively, residents can take a picture of their monthly water meter readings and upload it on the eThekwini Mobile App or via eServices at [email protected] for the actual reading to be captured.”

Residents speak out

– Kubashni Naidoo of Foresthaven, in Phoenix, said: “My latest utility bill is R4 800. I have approached the revenue office over the past year requesting assistance and for investigations to be done. I have taken it upon myself to note down the reading as per my meter and handed this information to them. It’s just my husband and I at home and our consumption is minimal. These amounts are on some occasions calculated based on estimates. We are now forced to pay these exorbitant amounts.”

– Raganee Pillay, of Chelmsford Heights in Tongaat, said: “My light bill is sitting at just over R8 000. It's only me and my two siblings at home. My sister is the only income earner, on a minimum wage. We don’t use much electricity. I cook with a gas stove. We can only afford R1 000 per month for utilities, that’s after we buy food and pay for funeral policies. We can't even make a payment arrangement because they want us to put such a big down payment. We don't get anyone coming to read meters in our area.”

Commenting on the matter on the POST Facebook Page, followers said:

- Saloshnee Naidoo: “My water bill is now almost R3 000 a month sometimes. It used to be under R1 000.

- Premilla Naidoo: “I live in a complex. No one was at home from May 2023 to September 2023. My account was still being debited for the maximum amount and my bills showed that I was exceeding the normal debit order for more than R1 000. Obviously, the meters were not read. When I returned home I went to the municipality and queried it. No one could give me answers. I was told to fill in my reading on a page and deposit that in a box. And that was the end of that. Basically, the municipality keeps your money and earns interest while we get poor service delivery.”

- Doneven Pather: “I haven't received a bill in four months. I registered to view it online and it still doesn't reflect.”