Municipalities’ billing system under fire

2017-04-26 06:02
Natalie Steenkamp

Natalie Steenkamp

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories


I am in the process of selling my house. I have approached the municipality for a rates clearance certificate. They have now informed me that I have an outstanding amount of more than R100 000 on my water account, which they say has run up over the last ten years, because I was charged on estimated amounts and not actual metered amounts. I have made sure to always pay my account every month, and now I have to pay this. Surely this cannot be right?


In a long line of court cases regarding the responsibility of owners for outstanding debts and the ability of municipalities to recover such from home owners, a strong view in favour of the home owner has been upheld in the recent High Court judgement of Argent Industrial Investments v Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality.

In this case, Argent Industrial (AI) received an account from the municipality in March 2015 that showed an amount was in arrears for R1 152 666,98 after a water meter reading was done by the municipality.

AI paid an estimated water account provided by the municipality every month, with the last actual water meter reading by the muni­cipality only done in 2009. The arrear amount reflects the difference between the actual consumption and the estimated consumption that was already paid by AI.

AI contested the account and argued that they were not liable to pay for any arrears of more than three years prior to March 2015, and any older amounts would have prescribed according to the Prescription Act. The municipality argued that prescription only starts to run when the consumer is billed and that was when the municipality became aware of the existence of the debt.

However, the court held that it was not AI’s obligation to read water meters and calculate their consumption and have everything in order for when the municipality demands payment for the actual consumption of water.

A delay of three years to read the water meters was also held to be unreasonable. The court also disagreed that prescription started running when AI was invoiced and when the municipality became aware of the debt.

Accordingly, the court ordered the municipality to calculate the average monthly water consumption of AI from September 2009 until March 2015, using the meter reading on the muni­cipal account received, and then charge AI only the average amount for water consumption for the period March 2012 to March 2015.

The court effectively found in favour of AI and determined that their debt older than three years was written off in accordance with the Prescription Act.

This finding therefore supports your view that the municipality cannot charge you for ten years of outstanding water readings of which you were not aware. Consult with your attorney to investigate the matter in detail and advise you of your rights, taking into account this recent decision.

– Natalie Steenkamp, associate, Phatshoane Henney Attorneys

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

Competition regulation for a growing and inclusive economy

ADVERTORIAL: The Competition Commission of South Africa is conducting advocacy work in the South African automotive aftermarket industry and has gazetted a Draft Code of Conduct for public comment.

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.