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Wednesday Nov 28, 2012

Tales of billing woe from riled Joburg property owners

Hundreds of frustrated Joburg residents queued for hours on Saturday in the hope of getting long-standing queries sorted out by a team of city officials.

"This is my last attempt to get it fixed," said one customer in the queue, with an electricity meter broken for two years.

"This is a last-ditch attempt," said another, trying for two years to get officials to register and read meters.

Many described long battles with the city over queries, and came armed with the obligatory reference number to the city's open day for Region E.

Dozens of cheerful backoffice experts from the City of Joburg's revenue and customer services department, wearing yellow T-shirts, faced the crowds.

Department spokesman Kgamanyane Maphologela said it was the fourth open day, for customers with long outstanding queries.

"Our aim is to firstly resolve their queries on the spot and, secondly, to foster a positive direct relationship with them," he said.

The city did not yet have figures for the number of customers who arrived or queries resolved.

The Star spoke to some of those queueing.

Some disputes were recent, some went back years.

One customer opened the monthly bill expecting the usual R2 000 electricity charge; it was R40 000.

A woman with a large file detailed a three-year struggle to get the city to amalgamate bills for a property, resulting in debits carried over to the consolidated bill but not credits, and a dispute over R87 000.

Another woman is still trying to get her R5 000 refund after selling a property.

"It's the blind leading the blind in this place," she said. "This is an exercise in patience."

One man tried to find out why his objection to the revaluation of his home from R2.8 million to R4.6m was ignored. Another has an empty stand running a mysterious water bill of R5 900.

There were several tales of double billing for properties on double stands. One customer got a R23 000 bill for a single month's electricity, another got a bill for R100 839 for the month's power.

Another had a single month's rates bill for more than R9 000 that city officials called "finger trouble" but couldn't fix.

A prepaid meter was installed two years ago but the customer was billed on the now non-existent postpaid meter. That ghost meter ran up a bill of R48 000 and the customer - with 25 reference numbers for queries - was disconnected five times. "They can't differentiate between postpaid and prepaid."

Another pair with their own large file of complaints paperwork could only laugh in despair about their unexpected rates bill that arrived straight from a debt collector without any previous billing. "We owe R190 000," said one. The city's response? "We're sorry for you!"

Another also got a "final notice" for a never-before-seen bill for R149 000 for someone else's property. Two complained of bills with actual readings for meters that had been buried for years.

The Star

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