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Thursday Nov 22, 2012

Joburg unilaterally 'resolving' bill queries

The City of Joburg has resorted to a new tactic to force residents to pay accounts that are under dispute.

It is unilaterally marking these queries as "resolved" on its computer systems, and closing them without informing residents of the decision.

The council then proceeds to cut off residents' services, only then informing them that their queries have been resolved, thereby not giving them the chance to log a further complaint or make an arrangement to pay.

The Star's Metrowatch has received several complaints from residents who believed that their billing complaints were still under investigation, but were suddenly handed pre-termination notices or had their services cut off.

And, to make matters worse, the council is also refusing to open a new query, saying it has been finally resolved.

DA councillor Linus Muller has requested an audit on all the resolved queries.

He described the actions as "lawless".

"It is also indicative of the city's inability, if not unwillingness, to act in compliance with the court order obtained in December... saying properties under dispute cannot be disconnected, which is itself based on the very by-laws and policies which are in place to ensure orderly processes.

"The city is taking short cuts which evade the order, the bylaws and the policies," he said.

Muller said many ward councillors had received complaints of termination of services with residents being told the query was closed, when in fact it had not been closed.

"Nor is the city notifying complainants that the complaints were resolved.

"The complainant is thereby deprived of the opportunity to lodge an appeal in terms of section 62 of the systems act.

"The contractors effecting the termination have been that the affected query had been instructed customer's resolved.

"It is most concerning that the city is increasingly operating in a manner, which... can only be described as lawless," he said.

Moira Wingate, who manages several properties, said she had been trying to get an account for electricity since March.

"We got numerous assurances that the complaint was in the process of being corrected - and then it went off the radar.

"On following up, we were informed the original query had been marked as resolved.

"We are concerned that the city manager could be misled by being dishonestly informed that old queries are being resolved and that only new queries are in the pipeline.

"Not one of the 39 queries we have pending have been resolved and we get an additional eight each month," she said.

The council said the allegation that queries had been closed without resolution could mean that there was not sufficient information about the customer or the customer query.

The Star

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