Msunduzi power cut offs 'flout bylaws'

2019-02-11 17:02
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The Hilton Ratepayers Association (HRA) has challenged the legality of most of Msunduzi’s disconnections, which allegedly flout the City’s own by-laws.

HRA chairperson Trystan Banger said the municipality had a right to effect legal disconnections, but lately some people were being unjustly cut off.

“Msunduzi by-laws require that notice be given to the consumer, and to consider any representations which the affected consumer may wish to make.

“It should also be required to undertake not to effect any disconnection by forceful entry into property, unless authorised by court order,” said Banger.

The Witness previously reported that power cuts without prior notice having been issued to property owners were procedurally unfair and in violation of consumers’ constitutional rights.

However, Msunduzi maintained that theirs were within the confines of the law as notices were printed at the bottom of the utility bill. “The notes contained in each municipal account about ‘liability for disconnection’ and ‘due date for payment’ do not meet these requirements,” said Banger.

He said sometimes the consumers were given a “notice” by the contractors who came to disconnect their power supply. He said some HRA members who had been disconnected were later found to be up to date with their payments. He urged the City to sort out its own billing issues so that such inconveniences did not keep happening.

Banger said lately the municipality also threatened to disconnect entire estates if their contractors were refused entry on account of Msunduzi not following their own by-laws and disconnection procedures. “If they indeed tried to disconnect an entire estate because of a dispute with an individual consumer, they would be acting unlawfully.”

The organisation has mandated Pietermaritzburg law firm Tatham Wilkes Inc to engage the City on its members’ behalf and Banger said they were making some headway as the municipality’s legal team had confirmed that they want to meet and discuss the matter.

HRA had the firm compile a circular on Msunduzi’s right to disconnect electricity supply to residential customers, which was recently distributed to its members. It states the municipality or its contractors have the right, in terms of both the by-laws and the Municipal Systems Act, to access the property and the consumer may not obstruct such access, for the purposes of effecting a disconnection.

However, that right may only be exercised by the City for the purpose of effecting a lawful disconnection.

A consumer who obstructs access to the property where the intended disconnection is lawful — where an account unpaid, and notice duly given, and served — is liable for criminal prosecution for breach of the by-laws and the Act.

HRA has also been engaging the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) in pursuit of establishing an “end user forum” with Msunduzi. Banger said they hoped the platform would assist in improving communication protocols between Msunduzi and uMngeni municipalities regarding billing, maintenance of infrastructure as well as the available electrical capacity to meet both current and future demands.

Msunduzi had not responded toquestions from The Witness, but the City previously said that the disconnections were in line with its debt collection policy.

The right to disconnect electricity depends on:

• Failure to pay by the consumer• Due notice having been given by the municipality• Due notice having been served on the consumer.

The HRA wants Msunduzi to:

• Send proper accounts to its consumers, timeously and accurately. • Give notice of the date of an intended disconnection, including a reasonable opportunity to make representations. • Serve the notice as required by its by-laws.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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