Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Illegal Joburg cut offs stopped

Author: Hendri Pelser
December 2011 10:14
Illegal Joburg cut offs stopped

Court imposes interim order.
JOHANNESBURG - Businesses and residents in Johannesburg on Thursday won a major victory against illegal water and electricity cut offs by the City of Johannesburg.

This comes in the form of an interim order handed down by the South Gauteng High Court, applied for by a group of businesses and property owners. The Metro did not oppose the application.

Recently, the Metro has been disconnecting services if there was money owned on other accounts or line items, such as property tax. At the same time, the billing crisis has created a situation where services on disputed accounts are also cut off if an outstanding balance shows.

This has been in contravention of the City’s own by-laws and procedures.

Schindlers Attorneys, Conveyancers & Notaries applied for the order on behalf of their clients that own and operate 50 000 housing units in the inner city. Managing partner, Maurice Crespi, explained while the application represented an estimated 250 000 people and 100 000m² of retail space, it affected all businesses and residents in Johannesburg.

Crespi added that the applicants did not have a problem with service cut offs as long as it happened in terms of the City’s bylaws.

The interim order clearly sets out the conditions for service disconnections going forward and the parties will appear in court again next March for the final order.

Renney Plit is the chairperson of the Property Owners and Managers Association and the Afhco Group, two of the applicants. He explained that the City’s ability to resolve queries is problematic. In one example alone, a building was overcharged for electricity by about R470 000 because of an incorrect meter reading. Because the situation could not be resolved, the City threatened to cut off power to the building and its tenants.

Plit added that cut offs have been a major problem for some time and the interaction with council did not come to much: “We have been involved in many meetings with senior members at the council and received commitments verbally and in writing”. As a result, court action was the only option.

Johannesburg deputy director for communications, Nthatisi Modingoane, did not answer specific questions as to why the Metro did not oppose the application.

In response to Moneyweb’s questions, he said the joint statement issued confirmed the City’s undertaking to rectify the situation and set out procedures.

“While every effort is made to filter all accounts scheduled for credit control correctly, we are not immune to making a few mistakes. Our cut-off process does give customers some leeway to engage with the City… These (conditions for disconnections) may be subjected to a review if not fully closing the gap of trying to strike a balance between revenue collection and customer satisfaction,” he said.

The disconnection of services may only take place if:

•Consumers are correctly billed;
•A reasonable opportunity is afforded to settle arrear accounts or make appropriate arrangements satisfactory to the City and its municipal entities; and
•Prior to disconnection/restriction, consumers are given adequate and fair advance notice and an opportunity to challenge the accuracy of the accounts as per the City’s bylaws.
The Johannesburg Metro has undertaken to:

•Send reminders to consumers to pay accounts in the form of a monthly statement and/or a telephone call advising customers to pay the account and the outstanding arrears within 20 days;
•If this is not done, consumers will receive a pre-termination notice giving them 14 days within which to settle the account or make satisfactory arrangements;
•Any consumers who lodge queries or challenges to the accounts will be allowed the opportunity to do so and the City will assess these queries, make any appropriate adjustments to accounts (if any) and notify consumers of the outcome and any reasons in relation thereto;
•The City must inform the consumer in writing of its decision as soon as possible and must give the consumer 21 days to pay the amount found to be due and payable.
•Where a consumer has lodged a legitimate revenue related query, services to which that query relates will not be disconnected until the query is resolved and the consumer notified accordingly. In the meantime, consumers must continue to make payments of a reasonable amount (equal to the average of the preceding three months account which are not in dispute) in relation to the amount in dispute. The consumer must, regardless of the query, pay all amounts that are not in dispute.
( Money web)

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