Burden of the Bill
It’s a story many of us know all too well – you receive your monthly utilities bill, nervously open it up and get the shock of your life. You’re suddenly faced with an exorbitant amount for water and lights, leaving you in a panic. Fortunately, there are ways to resolve billing issues. However, it will take some time and patience.
THE FIRST STEP
If you are absolutely sure that your account is incorrect, you need to log a query with your local municipality. Simply visit your municipality’s website to find the correct contact number.
Once a query has been logged, the municipality has the legal obligation to launch an investigation. The investigation could take up to 2 months, after which the municipality needs to contact you and inform you of its findings. However, if you don’t hear from them within the two-month period, you’ll have to log the query again.
CHECK THE PLUMBING
In some cases, it’s often found that a leaking pipe is the cause of a sudden increase in monthly usage. It is your responsibility to check for any leaks within the confines of your property. If the leak is found to be from the water meter or any pipes running outside of your property, the municipality must do the repairs. The municipality must also credit your account, but this won’t happen immediately. In the meantime, you must continue paying your monthly bill to avoid termination of services.
NB! Report water leaks the moment you become aware of them. Find out how by reading our water leaks how-to.
HAVE THE METER TESTED
If you suspect the meter is the likely cause of the billing spike, you could request your municipality to send out a contractor to test the meter. Should they find that the meter is faulty, they must replace it as soon as possible. Your account will also be credited.
NB! It is a criminal offence to tamper with any water meter. Only municipal workers are allowed to make any adjustments or alterations.
CAN I WITHHOLD PAYMENT?
Despite a pending investigation into your account, you have to still pay the monthly billed amount (including any amounts you feel may be in error). Contrary to what many believe, the municipality is legally allowed to cut off your water supply should you fail to pay. According to the Water Services Act (1997), a municipality “may place limitations on or discontinue water services where a consumer fails to meet his or her obligations to the water services provider, including:
- A failure to pay for services, or
- A failure to meet other conditions for the provision of services.
It should be noted that a municipality can’t simply cut off water services without following proper process. You must be informed in writing, via a pre-termination notice, that the municipality intends to terminate water supply. The full amount outstanding as well as banking details must be indicated on the pre-termination notice. You must then respond to this notice as soon as possible. You can either email/call the municipal office to set up a payment plan, or you need to make the payment in full should no payment plan be in place.
NB! Policy and legislation does differ depending on the municipality. For example, in Johannesburg it is illegal to cut off your water - they may only limit the amount of water you can use every day. Check with your municipality how the cut-off process (if any) applies to your area.
In the case where the municipal process is not enough to resolve your billing issue you’ll need to approach legal experts to take the matter to court.
Sources: Saflii, Water Services Act (1997)