My big fat bogus bill

2018-07-27 15:37
Lynne van Rooyen, of Prestbury, holds up the utility bill in which she was billed R1?million (inset) by the Msunduzi Municipality.

Lynne van Rooyen, of Prestbury, holds up the utility bill in which she was billed R1?million (inset) by the Msunduzi Municipality. (Nhlanhla Nkosi)

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Billing chaos continues at Msunduzi with many residents still reporting not receiving bills and having their electricity unfairly disconnected.

Caught in the thick of the billing botch-ups, a Prestbury woman is battling to sort out the bureaucratic nightmare after the municipality told her she owed them R1 million.

Lynne van Rooyen had only been living in her house for five months when she received the extraordinary bill earlier this year.

And, when the City retracted that amount in May, Van Rooyen was then slapped with a bill for nearly R15 500 detailing amounts owed since November last year — despite her claiming to have met all her debts, apart from the R1 million.

Her complaint is the latest in a long line of municipal billing nightmares that the public has had to contend with since the City changed its billing system and earlier this year began a disconnection drive.

Despite Msunduzi saying in April that it was taking steps to remedy the billing situation, The Witness still gets inundated with complaints from angry residents over the non-delivery of bills and questionable electricity disconnections.

Van Rooyen told The Witness: “I was in complete disbelief that they could charge me R1 million. But then it was removed and I get this R15 000 one with no explanation, no apology and no acknowledgment that they made a mistake.”

She said she had on Monday paid the municipality R5 000 toward the R15 500 bill in the hope of avoiding the “horror stories I heard” about electricity disconnections.

The house is the first that she has owned, and is situated opposite the home she grew up in. “It’s disheartening, especially because I only started paying [utilities] in October [last year]. So how can I get billed so much for a young account?”

Another Prestbury resident said he had to pay nearly R1 000 to get his electricity reconnected on Wednesday, because Msunduzi failed to send him his bills regularly.

“I didn’t receive a bill in March, so I just paid an average R2 000. Now it turns out I paid about R500 short, so I had to pay that plus a disconnection charge of about R470 to reconnect my lights.

“They didn’t add my outstanding fees to the June account. How was I supposed to know I owed something?” the resident said.

The problem of a lack of billing and disconnections has hit locals hard this year, and civil society organisations say it’s affecting the poor.

“If someone living on pension bringing in R1 600 a month gets disconnected and suddenly has to pay all they owe plus the disconnection fee, they won’t manage,” said Mervyn Abrahams, of the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group.

“Even for someone on the national minimum wage of R3 500, it would be a phenomenal expense. A lot of people are staying without electricity indefinitely until they can raise enough money.”

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), meanwhile, told The Witness that municipal degradation happens over time, and oversight processes by higher government institutions were ineffective.

“Some municipalities are now at the point of no return and when they cannot collect enough money they come up with a clever scheme like disconnections where people are forced to pay extra,” it said.

DA caucus leader at Msunduzi Sibongiseni Majola said he did not blame residents for complaining, and criticised the City for “penalising” residents who were honouring their debts, but encountered billing problems.

Msunduzi spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha did not respond to a detailed query.

City chief financial officer Nelisiwe Ngcobo acknowledged an e-mailed query but did not respond.

Attempts to get hold of Msunduzi mayor Themba Njilo were unsuccessful on Thursday.

Landlords group considers not paying City

A group of about 20 landlords are considering not paying Msunduzi until they receive regular bills.

The landlords, who own several flats and commercial properties around Pietermaritzburg, will soon meet to discuss grievances, with some saying they have not received bills for six months.

Haroon Bayat, whose family has owned properties in the CBD for more than 45 years, said landlords are unable to charge tenants for utilities without being furnished with bills from Msunduzi.

“So tenants are not paying. We have to pay for utilities from our own pocket. For lights alone I have to pay about R25 000 for each property. We are struggling and things are becoming desperate.”

He added that the new SAP system, which processes bills, lacks the sophistication of previous systems. “The bill will come but it won’t have a [flat] unit number. So how do we know which bill to give to which tenant? There is insufficient detail, and no one at the municipal offices knows how to help.”

Bayat said several landlords will meet to discuss the situation, and said court action against the City would be considered.

“We can’t manage, and we’re thinking of not paying until the City gets its act together,” he said.

Msunduzi did not respond to a query.

Residents vent on social media

Residents took to social media to air frustrations on billing.

Heidi de Kock said she spends between R3 000 and R4 000 for her business on Greyling Street. “Got a bill for over R256 000,00. Power was disconnected and I went there 13 times before it was sorted out!”

Nomkhu S. Mthimkhulu said she got disconnected for merely owing R12.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  utility bills

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