Durban - DESPERATE Durban residents who believe their constitutional rights are being violated by high electricity bills have approached the provincial offices of the public protector and the SA Human Rights Commission for help.
A letter sent to both offices last week by local activist Andisha Maharaj states that the rights of residents from Ottawa, Verulam, Phoenix and surrounding areas were being violated by eThekwini Municipality’s failure to resolve ongoing problems with the electricity billing system.
Maharaj said residents could no longer put up with the sad state of affairs of the electricity department or “don’t care” attitude of authorities.
“Our constitutional rights are being violated and we have now reached the end of the tether.”
The activist said many residents strongly believed they were being fleeced by the municipality.
She said residents believed the high electricity bills were due to the municipality relying on estimates of power usage to bill residents.
“The residents complain they are continuing to receive estimated electricity bills … and where consumers are sending their meter readings, it is not being captured.”
One of these residents, who requested not to be named, received a bill for R14 295 in September. The resident said the highest amount usually received was around R3 500.
“It has affected my pocket tremendously. I’m left with hardly any money to buy food and being unemployed adds more to the worry of my electricity and water being cut without notice,” said the resident.
Maharaj said in other cases residents received bills totalling hundreds of thousands of rand.
“The failure of the municipality to send us proper bills has led to residents being called upon to pay very high electricity costs which are beyond the means of most residents.
“We cannot understand why the municipality cannot get properly qualified meter readers to do the work so ratepayers will not have to worry about receiving exorbitant electricity bills, but have people employed to rush off and disconnect supply.”
Maharaj said residents have to pay disconnection and reconnection fees even while disputing their bills.
She added that readings and adjustments meant to be conducted every three months are not being done, while the meter reading contact number had been disconnected and the email address had not been communicated to residents.
EThekwini Municipality said July’s tariff increases, higher consumption during winter and the fact that residents stayed at home and consumed more services during the pandemic, contributed to higher bills.
“The bills are accurate but regrettably due to the use of estimated meter readings for several months, mainly due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the bills are higher where the consumption has increased during this period,” said municipality spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela.
He said the council was committed to consistent monthly meter readings.
“The electricity department will as from January 2021 be conducting monthly readings as opposed to quarterly,” he said, adding there are also almost 60% of consumers on prepaid electricity.