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Monday Jul 09, 2012

No clarity on Joburg billing chaos

The Revenue Road Map designed to sort out the Joburg billing chaos saw the City of Joburg undertaking to resolve 66 000 disputes by June 30 - but the city still cannot say what progress has been made.

The road map was launched in November last year to resolve the billing crisis in stages, over a period of 18 months.

According to the plan, 66 000 problems registered before November last year were to have been resolved by June 30. Now, nine days past the deadline, the council has failed to provide answers to The Star's request for an update on the billing chaos. This despite their numerous promises to do so since Wednesday.

The Star has been in regular contact with the city's head of communications, Gabu Tugwana, since Wednesday, when he promised replies to questions. He first asked for some extra time, but promised answers would be forthcoming on Thursday. They were not, but he said he would have them by yesterday morning.

In the afternoon, he then sent an SMS stating he would only be meeting the relevant parties at 8am this morning, as he had been booked off ill on Friday. This was the final response to numerous calls, e-mails and SMSes from The Star asking for clarity on what had happened with the 66 000 billing problems.

According to the road map, February 28 was the first deadline to resolve the queries. At that time, the city admitted that another 62 188 new complaints had been recorded in the four months from November 1 to the end of February and that, of these, 35 000 remained unresolved.

The council promised there would be accurate bills, query resolution and meter-reading accuracy, as well as "significant progress" made to resolve customer queries, including the resolution of clearances and change of ownership queries.

City manager Trevor Fowler promised the city would have an improved customer interface for which city officials would be held accountable, and that the backlog in property valuations would be cleared and customer queries largely resolved.

However, The Star's readers claim this has not been the case:

  • Fahdiela Desai sold her house in November 2010 and had a credit balance of about R2 700. Suddenly, she received a water bill for R1.9 million for a single month. She called numerous times, was often put on hold for hours and then cut off. She visited the Jorrisen Street office, waited five hours and left because she was still far from being assisted. She receives at least two SMSes a day calling for urgent payment or face cut-off.

  • Kiran Vallabh has a small warehouse in Doornfontein, and his rates bill averages R1 500 a month. Last August, he received a bill for R1.6m. Issue is unresolved.

  • Vanessa Barolsky was in credit of R3 000 when her electricity was cut without notice. She phoned the call centre and waited for more than one-and-a-half hours; her call was not picked up. When she did eventually get through, she was told she was in credit. She was then accused of having an illegal connection on her property, despite having lived there for eight years.

  • Lyn van Haght's water meter was faulty and replaced over a year ago. To avoid a cut-off when she got a sudden huge bill, she took an additional bond and paid R70 000 while fighting the dispute. She is battling to get the money back and pays interest to the bank.

  • Dave Sparrow's problem is four years old. He is being charged for electricity on a vacant stand.

  • Monica Solomon is being charged on her neighbour's water meter.

  • Kim Welsford normally pays R165 a month for rates for flats classified as residential sectional title. In May, she received bills of almost R24 000 each because the flats are now classified as business sectional title.

  • Caron Mooney lodged an objection against an excessive property valuation in 2009 and it was upheld. At the end of March, the corrected valuation reverted to the excessive one from 2010 in which his house was valued at R1m more. He now owes over R16 000.

    The Star

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