Schindlers is often contacted by desperate consumers who have been unlawfully terminated by the City of Joburg as a result of arrears that they do not owe. The aim of this article is to educate the public as to what its rights are, in relation to disconnections.
Rights related to accounts
Every consumer has the right to receive regular and accurate accounts, at the address that they have nominated. The amounts billed must be calculated using the correct property valuation, the correct tariff, and if services such as electricity and/or water are billed for, according to actual consumption or estimated consumption, provided that the City does not bill estimates for longer than six months.
Rights related to logging queries
If you suspect or know that any charge or information on your account is incorrect, you have a right to log a query with the City’s call centre on (011) 375 5555, or send the City of Johannesburg an email at [email protected]. Keep a record of your query reference number, and if one is not available or is not provided to you, record the time, date and person to whom you spoke (if you called the call centre). If you send an email, turn on your delivery and read receipts, and keep these records in a safe place.
Rights relating to investigation of queries
You have the right to have your query investigated by the City within 14 days of logging it, or as soon thereafter as is reasonably possible. Bear in mind that sometimes in order to investigate a query, meters must be read, which takes some time to organize because access to the property may be required.
Rights relating to the resolution of a query
You have the right to have your query resolved, and to be notified, in writing, of the outcome of your query, bearing in mind the time it might take to investigate and resolve the matter. For example, if your query is that your existing meter is not working, it will take a few days for meter readers to confirm this, another few days for a new meter to be installed, and thereafter at least three months for the City to take actual readings from the new, working meter, that can be used to adjust your account for the period in respect of which you were incorrectly billed based on the broken meter.
Rights relating to pre-termination notices
You have the right to be given at least 14 calendar days notice (by way of the delivery of a pre-termination notice to the property, or to your nominated address, if they are different) that your account is in arrears and that if you do not make payment, or suitable payment arrangements (such as paying the arrears in installments) then your supply will be terminated.
Rights relating to water supply
Because all persons in South Africa have a constitutional right of access to water, it is unconstitutional for the City to completely terminate your supply. It is only lawfully permitted to reduce your water flow to a minimum of 6,000 litres, per household, per month. If the consumer is a body corporate consisting of many households, the body corporate must be given 6,000 free litres, per household, per month (30.4 days). This does not apply to commercial properties.
Rights relating to electricity supply
In law, electricity constitutes an incident of the use and enjoyment of property, which means that if your electricity is unlawfully cut off, your constitutional rights to your property and to housing are violated. This does not apply to commercial properties. There is no free minimum for electricity.
Rights relating to disconnections specifically
If you have logged a query and it has not been resolved by the City, the City is not lawfully permitted to disconnect you. If you have not been given a pre-termination notice and 14 days notice, the disconnection is unlawful. Seek legal assistance in securing urgent reconnection if you are unlawfully terminated and you are unable to secure reconnection after you have exhausted all reasonable attempts to negotiate with the City.