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Monday Apr 16, 2018

Pensioner 'owes' Joburg R91 000 for water

A pensioner has accused the City of Johannesburg of snubbing its own ombudsman's recommendations not to cut her water and to correct her bill after she was charged more than R91 000.

Judy Parsons, 67, from Bezuidenhout Valley, south of Joburg, said her problems started in August 2013 with her billing which led to the city replacing the meter and re-starting the record at 0.

"They did not send me a bill for three months, then in December 2013 they sent me a bill for R21 959 for the 103 days from September 13 to 10 December 10 - meaning I used an average of 17 359 kiloliters (KL) per day.

"I lodged a complaint and they said, several months later, that the bill was correctly aligned and continued to bill me for between 4KL and 6KL per day. By October 2014, the bill was R71 305.00.

"During this period I paid my estimated average and went repeatedly to the Consumer Services in Braamfontein to follow up on the complaint. Each time the officials said they would correct the bill but they did nothing," said Parsons.

Parsons shares a two-bedroomed house with one other elderly woman.

"I do not have a swimming pool or washing machine. My water usage has been between 0.60KL and 1.2KL per day for several decades," she said.

She said when she went to the city's offices to query this "ridiculous" amount, the accounts department claimed it had no record of the repairs to her faulty meter and that she still owed them back payments of more than R74 000.

"I went to technical support in Booysens and got a copy of the job card which I took to the accounts people and sent an e-mail. They continued to say they had no record of the meter being faulty (or the repair). Over the next six months I received four pre-termination notices," she said.

Finally, after being to and fro to the city's offices without getting any assistance and her water supply continuing to be cut, Parsons laid a complaint with the ombudsman.

She said in September 2017 the ombudsman held a reconciliation meeting between herself and an inspector from Joburg Water.

"The inspector said that it is impossible for me to have used 17KL a day as the pipes in my area could not carry that amount of water.

"They said they would calculate the amount I owed based upon an average usage of 0.7KL a day from September 2013 and they would reset the meter to begin at 0 again.

"They said I should pay the newly calculated amount when they presented me with the bill."

To her shock, Parsons said the city neither recalculated the bill nor reset the meter and now the amount she owes has risen to R91 056.63.

"I have received numerous threatening phone calls from debt collection and pre-termination notices.

"They disconnected my water twice since the so-called agreement in September. In February, they cut the water and disconnected the service.

"The officials at Joburg Water whom I talked to said they had no record on their files of any resolution with the ombud or anything from their own inspector.

"They refused to read the copy that I have of the inspector's letter setting out the agreement (with the ombud)".

All efforts to obtain comment from the mayor of Joburg, Herman Mashaba, were fruitless. His personal assistant, Cynthia Wentzel, said she did not deal with the media and referred enquiries to the spokesperson Baxolile Ngema.

He said: "Please forward me all the details of the clients that were not assisted. Can I also request that you provide information on the officials that refused to assist the clients."

Meanwhile, Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse spokesperson Lois Moodley said over the past few months it had received queries and complaints with regard to incorrect water and electricity billings. "Unfortunately, we don't have enough resources to deal with individual billing queries nor is this particular issue within our mandate".
The Sunday Independent

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