Ratepayers who lodge “frivolous” disputes in attempt to delay paying their bills will no longer be entertained if a draft proposal is accepted by council.The executive committee on Thursday approved a draft accounts dispute resolution policy.Msunduzi’s manager for financial control Simphiwe Mchunu said the municipality had never had a policy that defined the manner in which it dealt with account disputes.“The consequence of this is that customers submit frivolous disputes … the establishment of this policy will go a long way in resolving serious contentions that are experienced between the municipality and customers,” he said.Mchunu said the absence of the policy resulted in staff responsible for resolving disputes doing so at their leisure, thus affecting customers who had genuine disputes and needed swift resolution in order to settle their accounts. “We have disputes that date back to 2005.”If council approves the proposed implementation of the policy by January, ratepayers will no longer be allowed to dispute their entire account statement, as the policy says that disputes must “relate to a specific amount”. The onus will be on the customer to prove their case by submitting supporting evidence as part of lodging the dispute. The City’s help desk staff will be trained on screening valid disputes so that they will be in a position to reject the so-called frivolous ones before they are admitted for preliminary investigation.“Where the detailed investigation has found that the dispute is invalid, this must be communicated to the customer in writing.” The charges that were in dispute become collectable from the customer seven days after the presentations of the findings.Mchunu said disputed matters that were not finalised during the preliminary probe would be referred to an official for a full investigation. The municipality will flag the “amount in dispute” in the system and the customer won’t pay that sum until the outcome of a detailed investigation.Mchunu said the customers had the right to appeal the decision made by help desk staff or findings of the investigation but they would have to pay a non-refundable deposit for this. The appeal process could cost domestic customers between R550 and R1 500 while businesses will pay up to R3 500 depending on the stage of the investigation.The non-refundable deposit will only be refunded if the appeal finds in favour of the customer and it found that the official who did the investigation was negligent in his/her work or incompetent, he said.When appealing a final decision in a dispute the customer will pay for the appointment of an external investigator, and will only be entitled to a refund if it is found that “the internal investigation was botched by internal staff by their incompetence”. If the finding goes in favour of the customer, the policy says that the municipality will remedy the situation as per the recommendations of the external investigator and credit the customer’s account where necessary.Mchunu said the policy would help in eliminating the bottlenecks in decreasing the City’s debtors book — which reportedly stood at more than R2 billion — by eliminating hundreds of frivolous disputes and improving the manner in which the municipality addressed the valid ones.