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Tuesday Sep 03, 2013

Bllings chaos hits Joburg welfare agencies

Joburg's welfare organisations are facing closure as the city's billing chaos hits them. And, they claim, because the City of Joburg is doing nothing to assist them, more and more vulnerable children and elderly and disabled people could find themselves homeless.

The Star is in possession of a spreadsheet which shows Joburg's aid agencies owe millions of rand in unpaid rates.

However, many of the homes claim the bills are incorrect but have still had services terminated, leaving residents without water. Some bills are for R700 000.

Reverend Les Sanabria, representing the Johannesburg Social Services and Development Forum - an umbrella body for 500 welfare organisations caring for children, the elderly and the disabled, said he had asked for a meeting with mayor Parks Tau since April, but had not had a response.

'The common problems the homes face are incorrect zonings and valuations, resulting in higher rates; incorrect bills which cannot get rectified; excessive costs for water, rates and electricity; and access to city clinics and medication,' he said.

'Over the past few years we have been faced with retrenchments to cut costs, homes closing and people being left without care or support.'

The forum is asking for a special tariff for water, rates, refuse removal and electricity for welfare organisations, and for city support in rendering services to the welfare sector.

'We, as a nation, have signed many UN conventions relating to the care of the vulnerable, which is a responsibility that falls on the shoulders of the government. As NGOs, we have largely taken over this responsibility, but get no assistance from the government,' Sanabria said.

Gerald Fitzpatrick House in Bertrams recently had its water cut off because of several billing issues, leaving 82 residents without water. This, according to Merle Howroyd, was done without a pre-termination notice.

'There are several queries which I have been trying to sort out. Despite 200 calls and 164 e-mails to sort things out, nothing has been done. I have a water account for R353 337, which cannot be right as I have been paying. Add to that is refuse being charged on the accounts of all 10 properties that make up the home, of between R3 000 and R4 000 a month, for arrears which we have paid to Pikitup. The final straw is that with the new valuation roll from July, all our properties have been unrealistically increased. One has gone from R1.8 million to R6.9m, which will drastically increase our rates. It is unending and I am frantic. The Joburg council has taken things too far,' she said.

The Park Care Centre for the aged in Parktown West has been trying to obtain an application for grant-in-aid as a non-profit organisation, but has been unsuccessful. Elizabeth Liebenberg said: 'I got an application on the internet, but it is for sports and recreation. They send me from pillar to post but no one can assist with a form,' she said.

'We are also experiencing problems with the rates rebates, which have, in principle, been granted, but it has not been credited to our accounts. This goes back to 2007. We have received letters from lawyers threatening to disconnect our services. I have spent a great deal of time calling the municipality and the lawyers, without success.'

The council claimed it was trying to assist the organisations and had 'a long record of engagement with the welfare forum', especially since a new policy was introduced in January.

City of Joburg revenue department spokesman Kgamanyane Stan Maphologela said the council had engaged with the forum and asked for a tracking sheet on their utilities' costs. 'There was never any direct guarantee that we could reduce those costs via a write-off or extraordinary debt forgiveness.'

The different categories for assistance are:

  • Water and electricity: The new policy stipulates that NGOs who have beneficiaries in residence should apply for benefits on the expanded social package system and make arrangements to register their beneficiaries.

    'We have communicated that to the forum, but they have not followed the proposed procedures to date. No reason has been communicated to us. It is - possible the forum still does not understand the procedures, and we can happily clarify them,' Maphologela said.

  • Rates, refuse and sanitation: The public benefit organisation (PBO) rebate is the process for rates rebates, and the city did call for PBOs to submit the most current proof of status in writing.

    'The individual PBO rebates are considered on a case-by-case basis, and merits will be considered, including each organisation's affordability capacity. There is no rebate for refuse and sanitation,' he said.

    The Star

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