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Thursday Jun 12, 2014

Durban battles with deceased estates

Deceased estates that owe thousands in rates and utility charges have become a headache for the eThekwini municipality's debt collectors.

The city has turned to Legal Aid South Africa for help in collecting the debts, but Legal Aid says it will assist only in cases where minors are involved.

The head of eThekwini's revenue management unit, Peet du Plessis, said the problem was exacerbated when the municipality was not notified when a property owner died.

Although the city could not say how many accounts were involved, Du Plessis said it was owed a significant sum for electricity, water and rates.

'These date back years, but since we don't have a comprehensive database of deceased estates, we cannot say exactly how much is owed,' Du Plessis said.

However, he said the unit was liaising with other departments to determine the extent of the problem.

Most of the delays in payments arose when parents died and their children could not afford to settle the arrear rates and utility bills. 'In most cases the beneficiaries cannot make arrangements to pay because they are not the executors of the estate,' he said.

If the city was not told of the death, the accounts continued to be sent to the resident.

Du Plessis said, however, that if the city was notified of the death, the accounts were sent to the executor of the estate until it had been wound up.

Beneficiaries were urged to report the deaths of account holders.

'They must also ensure that the executor is appointed,' Du Plessis said.

Speaking at a public function in Kloof last Friday, Fatima Khan, from the city's real estate and freehold unit, said a large number of arrear services payments were on the city's books due to deceased estates which had yet to be settled by the master of the high court.

'About 100 000 accounts are outstanding.

'The master will not settle deceased estates unless there is a lawyer present.

'There are lots of people who can't wind up their estates as a result.'

DA councillor Heinz de Boer said it was unfortunate that a lot of money owed to the city by deceased estates was not going to be recovered.

He said it sometimes took up to two years to wind up an estate.

'For families who cannot afford to pay lawyers, this can prove frustrating,' he said.

Although he agreed that the money had to be recovered, De Boer said the city should spend more time chasing the provincial and national departments who owed the city millions.

'This is recoverable debt,' he said.

eThekwini speaker Logie Naidoo said that in cases where children were orphaned, the city did not demand payment, but wrote off the debt.

Advocate Mthunzi Mhaga, a spokesman for the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, said beneficiaries who were struggling could approach the department for assistance. They would not be charged.

Pretoria News

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