‘Municipal billings confuse users’

2012-09-10 00:00

MUNICIPAL invoices in South Africa are not consumer-friendly, according to the research by the Water Research Commission (WRC), which finds that municipal customers struggle to understand the billings.

“The ordinary South African consumer struggles to find basic information on municipal invoices, such as the amount owed from previous months, the meter reading date, water used and free basic water received,” states the study, entitled “Towards Standards for Municipal Invoices in South Africa”.

Interim vice-president of the new National Residents and Ratepayers’ Union Mano Naidoo told The Witness yesterday that generally water invoices were “not user-friendly”.

Specifically in Howick, Naidoo said, there were instances where people were being billed for amounts in arrears when their payments had been had been up to date.

He also shot down Msunduzi Municipality’s new SMS billing system, saying: “We’re still years behind for SMS billing to work because a lot of people don’t have access to cellphones.

“Without educating the people within the municipality, cellphone billing is never going to work. Hardcopy is key,” Naidoo said.

WRC director Jay Bhagwan said new software developments and technology held exciting possibilities to address shortcomings in the design and communication of municipal invoices.

“Opportunities include sending invoices via SMS, e-mail and web; using SMS, e-mail and the web to activate payment, explain invoice details, set targets, give incentives, communicate interruptions and educate consumers on how to use water and electricity more effectively,” said Bhagwan.

Municipal manager Mxolisi Nkosi said he believed Msunduzi’s statements were user-friendly and the municipality hadn’t received any complaints from ratepayers.

“The statements are not the reason people are not paying,” Nkosi said.

The aim of using SMSes and MMSes, he said, was to notify people that they were in arrears and therefore their services would be terminated.

He added: “The statements are easier to understand. We will also be using the option of e-mail for people who wish to receive statements that way.”

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