R96?000 water bill just one of a hundred huge Howick shockers

2014-04-16 00:00

HOWICK residents are drowning under exorbitant water bills.

A resident in an RDP house has just received a bill from the Umgungundlovu District Municipality for R96 000, while another in a more upmarket home was told he had used R58 000 worth of water in 60 days. Yet another has been asked to cough up R125 000.

The Umgeni Ratepayers and Residents Association (URRA) has been so swamped with complaints that it has decided to declare a dispute with the municipality over the matter. Lawyers are currently drawing up papers to dispute individual bills and take up the overall issue of the high water accounts.

URRA chairperson Mano Naidoo said he was sitting with at least 100 complaints and more were pouring in.

“What is upsetting the residents is that they are being harassed to sign an affidavit and an acknowledgement of debt. No effort is being made to verify the bills and what the cause for these exorbitant amounts could be,” Naidoo said.

He added that they were seeking legal advice, too, because it was not clear in many instances what period the person was being billed for. He went on to explain that about three years ago, there was an audit of the meters because of a number of complaints of faulty, buried and broken meters.

“Residents were never told the outcome of this audit and in many instances faulty meters were never replaced. I took the meter readers to task and they took me around and showed me readings were being taken correctly. There are clearly a number of issues at play here, such as the calibration of the meters.

“A resident had a faulty meter for years, to the point where he offered to replace the meter at his own cost. His bill was credited for R45 000. He thought the matter had been sorted out only to find that in the latest exercise he owes another large sum of money.

“There are also residents who had credit balances on their accounts over the past two years who now find they owe thousands. This was because meters were not read for months and usage was being under-estimated; these residents now face these exorbitant bills. The municipality cannot rely on estimates for more than three months and this needs to be sorted out,” he added.

Naidoo advised residents not to sign acknowledgement of debt forms.

Umgungundlovu District municipal manager Sibusiso Khuzwayo yesterday encouraged the URRA to provide the municipality with the alleged incorrect water accounts so that they can be investigated and corrected should it be necessary, rather than declare a dispute.

Khuzwayo denied that residents were being harassed to sign acknowledgements of debt. “In terms of the municipality’s credit control policy, all customers who have outstanding debts with the municipality are afforded the opportunity to enter into an agreement to pay off the outstanding balances,” he said.

According to Khuzwayo, they were well aware of the discontent over the bills. He said uMngeni councillor Surya Pillay had contacted the municipality on April 8 and it was arranged for the billing team to be on hand to address these issues on April 10. “On this date, about 30 account queries were brought to the attention of the billing team. The queries were resolved and it was noted that the majority of customers with high accounts had not been paying,” Khuzwayo said.

He confirmed that the audit on the meters had taken place and said a service provider has been appointed to attend to faulty meters and leakages for the entire district with effect from February 2014. He noted that the URRA had checked on meter readings and found them to be correct. “This indicates accounts are correct and are based on meter readings.”

He added the billing team will be at the Umgungundlovu District Municipality Howick Customer Care Centre on April 22 to 24 to address any further customer queries. The URRA is sticking to its decision to declare a dispute as several issues need to be resolved.

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