By Sanette Viljoen
Municipal accounts stir up a lot of emotion. Which is understandable, especially if your normal account is R2 000 a month and the municipality sends you an account for R20 000. How does one handle it?
It is important to remember that there is a mechanism in the Local Government: Municipal Systems Act (Act 32 of 2000), which deals with the declaration of disputes. This Act provides that a consumer has the right to declare a dispute about his account. In terms of section 102(2) no credit control measures may then be instituted before the dispute has been resolved. In terms of constitutional provisions electricity, sanitation and water supply are part of the basic services that South Africans can rely on against payment or otherwise.
Declaring a dispute purely about general municipal service delivery that is not up to standard, is running a risk. Section 102 specifically provides for declaring a dispute about a specific amount that you do not agree with.
How do I declare a dispute?
Afriforum (part of the Solidarity Movement) recommended the following process in the Klerksdrp Nuusblad:
“Write a formal letter to the municipal manager of the relevant municipality in which you state the following:
1. Explain that you have a problem with your account by giving details of the problems. Attach proof of your statement and number the evidence.
2. In the letter say that no credit control measures (termination of services or summons) may be applied before the dispute has been dealt with.
3. Address the letter to the municipal manager and deliver it by hand. Get a dated acknowledgement of receipt on the copy and keep it.
4. Email copies of the dispute to the:
4.1 municipal manager;
4.2 finance department; and to
4.3 the local Afriforum branch for reference purposes.
5. Request a reply within a certain time and request an acknowledgement of receipt.
6. Give a copy to the ward councillor and ask for assistance.
7. If credit control measures are applied, such as the interruption of services or debt collection action, approach the local branch chairperson for assistance. This person will then contact Afriforum’s head office and, if necessary, take appropriate action to protect your rights.
8. Make sure that you keep on paying your estimated monthly consumption and levies. This will place you in a particularly strong positive light should the matter be referred to a court for adjudication.
9. Act professionally at all times.”
It is extremely important to stay in contact with the municipality to track the progress of your dispute. The municipality is legally obliged to hand over all relevant documentation to you. Should the municipality suspend its services to you, you can use this documentation to obtain an interdict for the restoration of the services.
It is important to keep all correspondence. Keep record of all telephone calls, including names, dates and times. It is also important to record your readings yourself and to compare them with the statements. Take a photo of each reading.
Therefore, use the mechanisms at your disposal in a responsible way, but also to protect your interests. The amount in dispute does not have to be paid before the dispute has been resolved, but keep on paying your normal monthly consumption.