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Thursday Jul 26, 2012

Sinister twist in Joburg billing mess

Beleaguered Joburg residents face yet another charge by the City of Joburg.

Now ratepayers, even those who pay their accounts on the due date or just a few days late, are being slapped with a R156 pre-termination notice charge.

Despite the 21-day grace period ratepayers have before they face an electricity cut-off, the council has initiated a new policy of sending out "pre-termination notices" on the date payment is due. This sudden development sees those who pay on the due date having to fork out an extra R156 as the council rakes in a fortune.

The city previously said residents were given 21 days after the due date to pay, but Joburg Connect call centre staff say a new policy which slaps the pre-termination notice charge on the due date is in place and being implemented.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that the council changes the due date every month. This is over and above the fact that many residents are being charged for termination and reconnection services which never happen.

The council has denied this, saying pre-termination notices are only sent after the due date and only charged for when delivered.

However, The Star has received complaints from residents.

DA councillor David Potter has confirmed that he has received four such charges on accounts he manages, and which were paid on time and were not in arrears.

Lucy Holborn said she was dismayed to open her bill to find two charges of R156 each for two pretermination notices.

"We have only received one, which I believed at the time to have been generated in error, as I had paid the bill the day before. On that occasion, I had paid six days late as there was a postal strike so we didn't receive our bill and the due date for payments changes every month.

"That pre-termination notice was not even posted into our letter box, but just stuck up on the outside of our front wall for anyone in the neighbourhood to see, despite the fact that we have a functioning letter box and my partner was at home all that day. I am not aware of receiving a second pre-termination notice," she said.

Holborn said she phoned Joburg Connect, and was told that it was a new policy to charge for pre-termination notices, and to issue such notices on the day after the due date, if payment had not been received.

"This means that if you pay on the due date, but your payment takes a day or two to be processed by the bank, you will be issued with a notice and charged. I am not aware of being informed of this change of policy by the City of Joburg, and am alarmed.

"I was under the impression that you had a 30-day grace period to pay before any pre-termination notices were issued, which allows for delays in the post or in banking or whatever," she said.

She was told that there was no way she could log a dispute on these charges and had to pay. If she didn't pay the full amount, other pre-termination notices and interest would be charged to her.

Kevin Fah warned residents to check their charges: "I've just opened my July invoice and noticed a pre-termination notice debit of R156. I called the call centre and the agent explained to me that the charge is the cost of issuing a notice to me as I had not paid my previous month's invoice on time.

"I explained that, as per the invoice, the payment was due on July 10 and the current invoice shows it was paid on July 10.

"So why the pre-termination notice charge, which, by the way, I didn't receive?"

The agent logged a query and told Fah to pay the full invoice minus the R156.18.

"The point is, how many customers are just going to inadvertently or unconsciously pay the R156.18 without raising a query? I suspect yet another revenue stream and another 'outsourcer' is being paid by the council to (dare I say) steal from the consumer," he said.

City of Joburg revenue department spokesman Stan Maphologela he said there was no new credit control policy, and each complaint would have to be investigated "in context".

The Star

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