Durban - A PHOENIX couple received a utility bill of R14 700 which needs to be paid by the end of this week.
The bill is four times more than what they would usually pay.
Danny, 67, and Veronica Padayachee, 58, of Sastri Park, are worried that if they don’t come up with the money their electricity will be disconnected.
Danny collects a pension and Veronica receives a disability grant. They share their home with their daughter, son-inlaw and two grandchildren.
“My daughter and son-in-law help us to pay the utility bills and buy the groceries.
“Before the lockdown, we paid between R2 500 and R3 500 for water and electricity. In May, it rose to R5 000 and it went up to R6 000 in June and R7 000 in July. We assumed the increase was attributed to us all being at home during the lockdown so we paid whatever we were billed for,” said Veronica.
But in August, they were told they owed R14 700.
“I was in shock. I could not understand how the bill doubled within a month because our consumption was more or less the same.”
She said the city had not done a recent meter reading and claimed it was working on estimates from November 2019.
Veronica said she intended on going to the nearby municipal rental office to query the amount.
“We are pensioners and my son-inlaw only returned to work in August. Where do we get the money to pay this bill? The municipality should send meter readers to homes every month to conduct readings.
“We are being robbed.”
The DA has proposed that eThekwini Municipality conduct monthly meter readings instead of them being done every three months.
Councillor Rory Macpherson said meter readings were outsourced and there appeared to be no regulatory measures or oversight.
“Some electricity meters are read every three months, but in most instances the majority are not read for five months or more. Instead, the city took an average billing based on December or January consumptions which would have been higher than normal.”
He said many consumers experienced month-on-month utility increases of between 25% and 50%.
“Imagine as a business, you are in lockdown yet you get a bill that is double what it was before the lockdown, but you were closed? The call centres have all but collapsed, so customers are unable to get assistance and in desperation they turned to our councillors.
“We have asked that these readings be reflected on the monthly rates bill that goes out but the ANC declined to support this. There are about 3.5 million people living in eThekwini but approximately 275 000 are contributing ratepayers.”
He said the city had requested that utility customers email their monthly meter readings but not all of them had access to this facility. In July, electricity increased by 6.2%, rates by 4.9%, water by 9.5%, and sewage by 6.4%.
Msawakhe Mayisela, the city spokesperson, said the accounts were based on the actual reading or were estimates based on the previous average reading.
“The readings are done monthly where feasible, otherwise estimations are used. In addition, the city has launched a system for customers to send (their) monthly readings, and these are captured, provided they are sent in time to catch the billing run. Customers also can pay online.”