Cape Town family goes SIX DAYS without water – then receives shocking R300 000 bill

By Pieter van Zyl
09 February 2017

They paid their account every month. Then one day, there wasn't a drop of water in their taps.

Six days without any water. And they paid their account every month.

When Colin Piers (45), an admin clerk at YOU, arrived at his home in Delft, Cape Town, on Wednesday 26 January, there was not a drop of water in the taps. This was the first time this had happened since they’d moved in six years ago.

“My wife wanted to start making dinner. She wanted to fill a pot with water,” Colin says. But nothing came out of the tap – just an eerie hum.

It was just before 7 pm. Their son, Seth (11), in Grade 6 in Belhar Primary School, was the one who brought Colin and his wife, Yincee (34), a career counsellor in Woodstock, the notice which had been stuck in the front door handle.

Read more: How one school is saving thousands of rands on their water bill

For the couple it felt like getting a bucket of cold water in the face.

Dear Sir/Madam, The electricity/water supply to the above property has been disconnected/restricted . . .

colinrekening

If they wanted water again, they’d have to cough up R305 681,96. Colin knew it was impossible. “That’s more money than the house is worth,” he says.

Yincee immediately called the telephone number on the notice, only to received confirmation: Their water had been cut off. They were to visit the municipal offices in Cape Town the next day to sort the matter out.

Luckily, the geyser was still full of warm water. Colin switched the geyser off so they could use the water for cooking. By Sunday there was still a little water left in the geyser. They used it so Seth could wash before going to school on Monday. Colin showered at a local gym and Yincee at her sisters, who live nearby.

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For their pets – two large and two small dogs and a cat – they used the thin trickle of water which was still coming from one of the taps. Friends brought them three 5 litre-containers with water for the weekend.

“In a house without water you feel dirty, even if you showered elsewhere. During that time we experienced first-hand what it’s like for people who don’t have access to water – those people who’ve never had this luxury,” Colin says.

It was a nightmare to get the water turned back on. They were, as instructed, at the municipal offices on the Friday morning after receiving the notice. Here they were promised the matter would be investigated and they would have water within 48 hours.

Not so. After five days of calling the municipal offices at least twice a day, there was the “miracle” of restored water supply.

The couple say they fell behind last year when their water bill suddenly skyrocketed to R5 547,27 on 17 May – a bill they queried at the time. Before that, their municipal rates were between R300 and R400 a month. Then, bit by bit, the amounts started going up – as if the water was disappearing somewhere. The say those thousands of kilolitres of water definitely hadn’t gone through the taps of their home.

“We’re a family of three. We don’t have a swimming pool or garden,” Colin says. When they requested proof of the meter readings, it transpired that these “insane amounts” had started accumulating in 2015.

“It’s on their system, but we’ve never received bills like that,” Colin says.

“Be sure to keep an eye on your municipal bills if you want to avoid a nasty surprise like ours. Hopefully we’ll wake up from this nightmare one day. I only hope they’re not going to estimate what we owe again.”

The City of Cape Town responded with:

“The City confirms a reconnection directive has been issued and the property’s water was reconnected on 1 February,” says Councillor Siyabulela Mamkeli, mayoral committee member in the area, in answer to YOU’s query.

“Incidents of disputed use are usually solved by testing a meter. In this instance our records show that the volume of water reflected on the bill is more than possibly could have gone through that meter during that period. The City will correct the bill by working out the average likely water usage for this period.

“An application has also been lodged to replace the meter in order to prevent a similar situation from happening again.

“The City sincerely apologises for any inconvenience caused.”

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