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Monday Nov 26, 2012

Utility bill shock for Durban property owners

Durban residents have had thousands of rand added to their utility bills as an additional deposit - and if they fail to pay up, their electricity is cut off.

Hillcrest pensioner Braam Goosen, 64, who lives in Langford Estate, was one such resident who had his lights cut off for failing to pay a R5 000 "additional deposit" that the eThekwini Municipality put on his October bill.

"I was surprised when I saw this additional deposit of R5 055 in addition to my normal water, lights and rates bill for October," said Goosen, adding that it was unfair because he had never missed a payment in his 40 years of paying for services.

When he repeatedly queried the charge at the local municipal office and the call centres, he was not given an answer. Worried about how he was going to pay the huge amount, and fearing that his power would be cut off, he began to draft a letter to the city requesting an explanation for the additional deposit, stating that he would like to negotiate a payment plan to pay the money owing.

In the interim he paid what he owed for the water, lights and rates.

On November's bill, which Goosen said arrived late in the middle of the month, he saw that the due date for the payment of his bill had been brought forward and he would not be able to make the payment on time to avoid being cut off.

"On Monday I went to make a R1 000 deposit towards the huge bill, and then surprisingly on Tuesday I got a message saying that my power had been cut off by the municipality. And imagine how embarrassing that is for your neighbours to think you don't pay your bills and the city has to cut you off," said Goosen, adding that his power had been restored after his queries. He was then told that the "additional deposit" had been reduced to about R2 800, and that he had to pay up by December 8.

"I was told by one person at the city that they were behind their budgets and needed money," said Goosen.

Estate manager Bryan Hart said that several residents had been affected by the "additional deposit".

"We have been getting the municipality coming in here at least three times a week for the same reason, and residents are finding it frustrating that the city can't get their records straight," said Hart.

The head of revenue at the council, Peet du Plessis, said the city did not target specific customers when additional deposits were required.

"The city consistently applies its credit control and debt collection policy, which stipulates in clause 5 that a customer's deposit may be reviewed," said Du Plessis.

In Goosen's case, it had been discovered that he was in arrears on his account contrary to the claims that he had never missed a payment.

"The deposit can be increased depending on the frequency of the arrears and the risk. Council will consider a payment plan to pay a higher deposit," said Du Plessis.

The Independent on Saturday

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