Query high water account immediately and check for leaks

2015-04-08 00:00

I’VE had consumers complain over the years about astronomical municipal ­water accounts, usually as a result of an unseen underground leak, and the outcome is usually that home owners have to cough up to repair the leak and pay for water loss.

Municipalities charge tiered rates for water, meaning the more water consumed, the higher the per kilolitre price. So it’s easy for a leak to quickly rack up a bill of thousands of rands over just a few months, as pensioner Wendy Sanzin of Howick recently discovered. And unfortunately, not all municipalities offer consumers water loss insurance, to assist in such cases.

Sanzin said she had received her first unusually high water bill two years ago. She discovered an underground leak, repaired it and paid the account.

But when after the repair her water consumption readings remained high, she contested the charges on her account and eventually, a year later, the uMgungundlovu District Municipality reversed charges totalling R6 914,03.

Sanzin said she had also asked the municipality to replace her meter after a municipal staff member visited her home and advised her that faulty meters could sometimes “spin” irregularly. However, the municipality declined.

So, when after seven months of regular bills Sanzin’s water account suddenly shot up again from R130 a month to R3 082 last October, and then reverted to a regular account in November, she suspected a faulty meter, and again asked the municipality to replace it. She said she had turned off her water and observed the meter to check for a leak as instructed by her plumber.

“My plumber assured me there was no leak,” Sanzin said.

She said further water accounts in December and January were for R4 782 and R7 890.

“Clearly, such consumption is impossible for a property on which there is one resident, and on which there have been no changes from previous months, no guests, additional activities,” she said.

Sanzin said she disputed the accounts and asked the municipality for a refund and a replacement meter but she had kept up payments in “good faith”.

However, she said without sending an inspector to look at the meter, the municipality had declined and repeatedly insisted that there could be a leak.

When I contacted the uMgungundlovu Municipality to get to the bottom of the dispute last week, the municipality wasted no time and sent a supervisor to inspect the meter.

Municipal spokesperson Mbali Mwandla said the supervisor had tested the meter and found it wasn’t faulty, meaning there was probably another leak.

Mwandla said the municipality’s revenue manager had insisted over the months that Sanzin should check for leaks, which in terms of municipal bylaws homeowners were responsible for detecting and repairing.

“Unfortunately as the municipality our responsibility extends from the reticulation network up to the water meter/ pipeline,” she said.

She added that the municipality did not offer water loss insurance to cover leaks.

Sanzin said she was happy with the municipality’s meter inspection and she had also realised that she was at fault as she had not correctly observed the meter when she ran her test for the leak.

Mwandla said a further test could be conducted on the meter at the municipality’s workshop but if the meter was found to be accurate, the consumer would have to pay for the test. She added that the issue of faulty meters “spinning” when there was no leak was rare.

Mwandla added that consumers were responsible for their water accounts in such cases and if an acknowledgement of debt was signed consumers could arrange to settle the account via additional monthly payments within six to 12 months.

She advised consumers with account queries to contact the municipality’s accounts section and to ask for a reference number to ensure staff would escalate the complaint if it had not been resolved within three days.

Moral of the story: If you receive a high water account, query it immediately and don’t rest until you’ve checked and double checked for leaks, rather than run the risk of a runaway account.

• Send your consumer issues to consumer@3i.co.za.

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