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Friday Sep 14, 2012

Why Joburg property owners are ready to blow

A demolished building that's billed for electricity, blocks on indigent benefits, legal charges for not paying incorrect bills, prepaid meters that don't work, outstanding refunds...

These are some of the problems that Joburg residents have that the city managers don't want to know about.

The Star asked the DA for some details of the 2 727 queries that desperate residents handed to the party last month during a billing day at Marks Park in Emmarentia. These are about half of the queries collected, and were the first batch that the DA tried to hand over to the city last week.

The city refused to accept the bundle, claiming that the residents were trying to jump the queue and saying that the city's own query processes were adequate. At the time, the DA said the queries had reference numbers, which shows that the complainants had already approached the city.

"Customers not happy with billing statements always have the opportunity to personally log a query and receive a reference number," said city spokesman Gabu Tugwana this week.

"Should they still be unhappy with the outcome from verification, they could individually appeal to an appeals committee. Group representation by some political party is not covered in the guidelines covering the

Aconfidential between the and the city." The queries were sorted by DA ward councillor David Potter, who also listed some of the comments from the residents.

He said the biggest queries were an account of about R1.7 million, a few of more than R500 000 and "quite a few" of between R100 000 to R200 000.

Some queries date back years, said Potter.

He cited a property sold in October 2010 for which the former owner still awaited a refund, a bill with incorrect meter readings dating to August 2010, a customer with one refuse bin charged for two since April 2010.

In a bizarre matter, a customer complained about closing an electricity account in 2006, the building being demolished in 2007 but still getting billed for a building which no longer exists.

A customer complained of an R8 500 bill as the meter reader visited the site every month but the actual meter reading had not been the same as the invoiced reading since 2010.

Another customer complained of having had to pay R150 000 to avoid being disconnected a year ago despite having a query logged.

  • About half the 1 425 - relate to problems with billing for water, electricity or sewerage.

  • Another 49 deal with problems of the city changing the customer's address (not the billing address property address).

  • There are 29 pensioners trying to get rebates for services.

  • There are 624 people with problems over rates payments and another 16 with valuation queries.

  • There are 212 people waiting for refunds from the city.

    These include a customer waiting for nearly R9 000 since selling a property in May 2010, another has been battling to extract a R17 000 refund since April last year despite "countless visits" to city offices.

  • There are 37 people contesting legal fees they've been charged for disputed bills.

    One customer complained of being charged again in May for a previously incorrect legal fee charged a year ago.

    "No lawyers ever contacted us, I spend days on ensuring we received the correct accounts, addresses etc. We paid, next month received all zero balances then received the fictional charge," wrote the customer.

  • There are about 10 queries over accessing the extended social package, the subsidy for indigents.

    "I have a prepaid meter since 2010, but I still receive an estimated account. I have applied for a social package in 2010 but I am still being charged for refuse removal, water, rates and taxes," wrote one complainant.

  • There are queries from 11 residents over the split billing which occurs when a property changes ownership.

  • There are 35 queries about the new pre-term notices, from people who queried the charge as their accounts were paid on time.

  • There were about 45 problems with meters.

    Potter listed these as "burnt conventional meters, meters that are bypassed, prepaid meters that don't work, prepaid meters that don't work and were then bypassed, conventional meters that have electronic meter reading but the screens showing the readings are blank and hence cannot be read and ultimately result in 'estimated' readings".

    Potter said where the meters don't work or were bypassed, the accounts are estimated.

    The list of problem meters was sent to City Power.

    The Star

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