Durban – MORE than 11 000 eThekwini Municipality ratepayers are receiving estimated bills for water every month because the City’s water meter readers are battling to locate the devices.
Some meters have not been read for more than a year and the frustrated owners are being billed based on estimates of what they might have consumed.
The issue of the meters not being read was first raised last week in the external audit committee report looking into the affairs of the municipality. City officials were ordered to respond to the complete report and did so this week.
During their presentation to members of the executive committee on Tuesday, DA leader in eThekwini councillor Nicole Graham again raised the issue of unread water meters. The officials admitted to exco that there were challenges with the reading of these meters.
The officials said the City was still trying to figure out how the problem would be solved, including looking at getting its meter readers to physically search for every one of these devices.
This comes as ratepayers complain about exorbitant water bills they cannot afford to pay, with some residents threatening to report the municipality to the public protector and the human rights commission.
The municipality had come under heavy criticism from opposition party councillors who complained about the issue of meters not being read. They also took issue with the controversial Revenue Management System (RMS), which they blamed for producing inaccurate bills.
Graham said she was concerned there were so many meter readings being estimated in the city.
“There are more than 11 000 meters that have not been read for more than a year. We have been receiving far too many complaints from residents about the meter readings that are being estimated,” said Graham.
She said consumers were suffering because of the estimations. “If they are underestimating you could pay a massive bill one month and if they are over estimating, you pay more than you should pay.
“The City still has a massive billing problem, thousands of people in the city are getting bills they do not find to be correct and it is difficult to get a resolution on this,” she said.
IFP councillor Mdu Nkosi said the issue of the meter readings being estimated was a serious problem.
“This is daylight robbery as the City charges people for water they might not have used and they turn off that water if the residents cannot pay that bill. People cannot survive without water.”
He said he had dealt with several residents who were slapped with R200 000 water bills in areas like Clermont or uMlazi. “In the area you live you know how much you pay for water. If all of a sudden you get R50 000 that is emotionally debilitating and you, therefore, cannot pay that bill,” he said.
Andisha Maharaj, a Durban resident who had taken up the issue, said many people who found themselves overcharged had contacted her for help.
Maharaj said one homeowner’s bill was reduced by R25 000 after she assisted the person to file a complaint.
“I am still trying to get another billing reversed, it is a business bill that was issued while the country was under lockdown and there was no one operating there.”
Krish Kumar, the City’s chief financial officer, said the water department had to physically go and locate the meters; the challenge was that meter readers had not been successful in locating many of them and the City continued to bill using estimates.
“Some of these meters are in the rural areas and the meter readers are unable to locate them, some are inside the property and the owner is not available, or there are dogs there and they cannot access the property,” he said.
During Tuesday’s exco meeting, Kumar defended the RMS billing system, saying it was functioning perfectly. This after Nkosi asked why there were still issues of incorrect billing. Kumar said the system functioned well and mistakes possibly happened when the meter readings were being registered into the system.