My R89 000 water bill – any suggestions on what to do now?

By Alec Hogg

In August, we became a beneficiary of infrastructure upgrading by the Joburg City Council. The ancient mosquito breeding ground which doubled up as an underground water meter, was replaced by a fancy contraption that stands proudly outside the front wall of our home.

Sprinkler_Irrigation_Mar_2016Unfortunately, apart from occasional admiring glances at the new structure, I didn’t pay much attention. Until yesterday. Which is when an SMS from the metro saying we owed R89 000 this month. After a better than expected call centre experience, a pleasant lady emailed me the account. Sure enough, it is the newfangled water meter which triggered those palpitations.

According to the council, since the new meter was installed our household has started using five times as much water as before – a staggering 18 000 litres a day. Consuming that much water, by the way, would require three taps running full bore around the clock. Or perhaps watering the gardens of a suburban block or two. Neither of which, I know for certain, has been happening.

Here’s the problem. My detailed email to the helpful call centre lady has gone unanswered. So has the copy to a Council executive. As we work mainly from home, getting cut off because of this obviously outrageous account isn’t an option. It’s not possible I’m the only ratepayer to have this experience. What to do? Any guidance warmly appreciated.

From Biznews community member/author Mike McWilliams

Use a very small portion of that R89 000 to drill a borehole and install a water filtration and storage capacity. Inform the municipality that you will see them in court for the balance owing. Bear in mind that they are constitutionally obliged to provide you with water anyway. You could also get a consultant to test your meter for evidence that it is free-wheeling. If all else fails, a syringe-ful of Superglue into the working parts will make it less enthusiastic.

From Biznews community member Brian Faul

A few years ago infact more than ten I received a bill for R156 000. The approach I had was the following:

I first tried the decent way and email this and phone that. The option that worked out in the end was to get into my car with all my detailed payment records etc,and face them eyeball to eyeball. The search lasted a few weeks and I needed to travel to Randfontein. I tried very unsuccessfully to engage with someone from the information counter.

Eventually I just tired of that and found my way down a long passage of offices with my intervention strike plan. I hit the jackpot when I just barged into a office with the signage “Manager” outside.

The issue was resolved in less than ten minutes.The problem was due to the new meters being installed.They read the meter right round from zero to hundred and back.

The explanation given was that the meter reader was to blame as he was new etc etc. In any event I checked the whole admin system and approached it like a military operation. To hang around in the line and then engaging with a pen pusher when you get to the front wont help.

They are trained to deny access to management. They will very often tell you the system this and that.As they have limited access they can only give information based on the limited capacity screen in-front of them. No amount of screaming pleading or compliments will get you anywhere. It all happens either on the first floor or in the offices behind the counter.

It wont help to phone either as the people who answer the phone are also limited knowledge people operating in front of a limited data screen.

To demand to see management upfront is a no no as they have been skillfully trained to deny access at all costs. It is run like a mini presidency with limited access to No 1

My best advise is get the riot gear on.Mount your horse and go charging down that passage until you find the right person.As I was pleasantly suprised to find the manager engaged in a game of solitaire on his computer.His phone was off the hook.Sandwiches and coffee neatly placed in front of him.

I dont know was more suprised by the invasion him or I.

Suffice to say he would have lost a huge amount of face if he did not come through for me on the spot.So yes it can be done.

Also btw check your timing carefully before the assault.

Monday is a waste of time as they usually in legit meetings most of the day. Wednesday afternoon is forget it. Fri after 12 a no go

The best time is just after opening on either Tuesday or Thursday middle of the month.Forget month end or anywhere from the first to the 7th or 24 to 30/31.A good time is also just before closing time however depending on the hurry he or she may be it could be delayed.

Forget having a second go.You will be a marked man from then on.

Before I forget if you bump into the secretary or her desk just walk right past dont even bother for a chit chat or request.They are highly skilled counter intervention operators.

From Biznews community member Robyn Dixon

According to my water bill, I consumer 250,000 litres a month, as if I’d filled my swimming pool three times.

I don’t allow water to be used on the driveway to clear leaves, but have two people showering, a dishwasher that uses 10 litres, and a washing machine a couple of times a week, a few buckets for house cleaning and cooking, and pool top up.

I know it is impossible that I used that amount. I don’t have the fancy meter, but after I complained my bill suddenly went down to 50% of the previous consumption. I am not sure how or why.

From Biznews community member William

Alec, whatever you do, don’t fall for their instant solution – pay first, and we’ll sort ot the problem later. You will be permanently stonewalled and never get your money back.

You will need patience. Lots of it.

  1. Arrange a plan B water supply.
  2. Insist that they show your previous usage history from their records and then explain the huge jump, as they usually waste a lot of water down the street when working on the pipelines, and then volunteer a sucker to pay for it. They also don’t or cannot synchronise the old meter readings with the new readings. Get them to explain the gap in the readings ?
  3. Insist that they calibrate your new water meter at their expense.
  4. Be as much of a nuisance as possible and escalate to the highest e-mail addresses you can find in Joburg City. Copy all the opposition politicians.
  5. Don’t hold your breath.
  6. When all this fails, you’ve lost R89000.
  7. Get into the habit of taking your reading monthly and e-mail it to City water. In Pretoria they have a habit of estimating our water, and physically reading two or three times a year. If you read regularly it becomes self-policing and they can’t surprise you. They must come out, take a reading and explain the jump. 2+2 must be 4.

From Biznews community member Graham Alvey

You are not alone!

Our meter was replaced in November and we now have a R78 000 water bill – about 10 times the normal balance.  We are a small townhouse complex and I read the meter monthly.  The problem is an incorrect final reading of the old meter by several thousand units when they removed it. I know this because I read the meter a few days prior to it being removed We no longer have the meter to prove the incorrect readings!

From Biznews community member Mike du Toit

Further to your water problem.

If I were you…

While fighting with the municipality, go out a buy a Jojo water tank and raise it off the ground for good gravitation and connect to your mains inlet. Then find a source where you can “buy” bulk water and so circumnavigate the municipality. That’s what people do in Zimbabwe.

The other option is to tell them to put your old meter back.

From Biznews community member Cal Kennedy

As much as it’s a pain in the rub, you need to personally go to the
council offices to sort this out. I have been a few times to deal with
problems and I find they are very helpful when dealing personally with
you. Forget mailing, it won’t work.

What they do while sorting out the problem is organise that you pay an
average “reasonable ” price.

The best is to be there half an hour before they open which puts you in the first few patrons to be helped. It will save you long cues if you arrive mid-morning or later.

Make sure you take your ID and as much paraphernalia as possible so that you don’t have to return. (previous 3 months invoices etc.) I would happily do it for you but the owner has to be there in person.

If they do cut of your water, just “un”cut it yourself by removing the lock (most hard working men will be able to figure out the clamp). They do threaten you not to do it, but they never follow up. That’s my advice for what its worth.

From Biznews community member Anton Procter

If its some constellation I have had a water bill every month for the last 10 years for the amount of 96 000 rand.Every moth I take a letter to the water department with the account explaining that there is an error as I have my own water supplyEvery month they agree to rectify the problem so I can only believe that this will never ever be resolved.Point of interest they have never cut the supply off even that I don’t use their water.

From Biznews community member Howard Walker

I suggest fit a barrage of water tanks and a booster pump. Also a borehole and a big swimming pool and sweat it out. As we all know if you are not self reliant in this country you are doomed. You forgot to notice that’s why Zuma has a big pool.

From Biznews community member Jay Hooghuis

I had a similar experience with a faulty water meter that did not turn, thus readings stayed the same. initially got no account for water, but kept paying until after two years the credit on my account just looked stupid. Notified the city of Tshwane numerous time by telephone, got reference numbers, on email correspondence no response.

After two years I received a bill for R47000, which, on enquiry, i was assured was based on an actual reading taken of the (stlll faulty meter) meter, of course this could not be the case. I duly went through the whole phone call/ email saga with photos, was told the meter would be fixed in 3 weeks, all that happened was that my electricity got cut off and I paid the bill to have my services restored, I probably owed them around that amount in any event.

Another two years passed, same scenario as above played out, and i got a bill for R13000, this time I took a day of work, went to see a surprisingly efficient customer services department, who ensured me my meter would be replaced in two days, and the account sorted – nothing happened. Next month a R17000 bill arrived.

By this stage I had enough, asked my son – who is a lawyer – to write a letter of demand, promising high court action if the matter wasn’t resolved, and we would sue for costs. I got an immediate response from the City of Tshwane law department, within two days my meter was replaced, all the fictitious charges reversed from my bill.

My experience thus – what I could not get done in four years, a lawyer did in under a week.

From Biznews community member Jim Powell

Register a dispute with the council and get a reference number. Cannot legally cut you off until the dispute is settled. Turn off all your taps and see if the meter is turning. Take a photograph of the meter reading and send it to the council.

Contact Jaap Kelder of the National Taxpayers Union [email protected]. I consider him to be the expert on municipalities

From Biznews community member Patrick Hughes

I have a similar issue. Mine however in the city of cape town and they have not changed the water meter. They simply chose to change my water tariff and back bill me four years!!

They furthermore decided to back bill sewage.  We have a septic tank system. There is no sewage lines close to where we stay. They announced they where cutting my water as i was departing for a month stint in Europe!

Numerous trips to the town council have been in vain. I gave the matter to the municipal ombudsman who seems to be making some progress.They however hand delivered another notice to disconnect yesterday!

I will be on the phone to the ombudsman again this morning…

From Biznews community member George Henderson

You are not alone in this. It is happening daily all over South Africa. Your next step is to immediately declare a dispute with your municipality. By doing that they can’t cut your water supply until the dispute is resolved. In the meantime you pay the average of your last three months account on a monthly basis, again until the dispute is resolved.

From Biznews community member Cat Green

You are not the only one. When my new meter was installed I have also had this outrageous account. I was there when the meter was installed and the reading was given to me. I had used 8.8 KL from the last reading until the time of installation. I was sent an account for 88 KL. I live alone so it’s possible for me to have used this. Based on this I have had further large accounts whereas previously I had used an average of 15 KL pm. One cannot get hold of anyone to fix it and even if you visited the City of Jhb offices you cannot find anyone intelligent enough to understand the reconciliation of the account. Please let me know whether we should all march on their offices and destroy the place to get any attention.

From Biznews community member Margaret Louise Hodges

Phone the consumer watch at The Star. They are brilliant. I had a R54,000 bill some years ago – one little old lady pensioner in a tiny house in Rivonia. They helped me solve the problem.

From Biznews community member Cathi Young

I’m pleased to see it wasn’t just me but it’s devastated my small household – I live in Durban (eThekwini municipality) and also had a “new” meter installed by them. My old one was perfectly adequate however my dogs announced the arrival of men working outside my gate. I assumed it was normal…..A month later I received a HUGE bill and a warning from the dear municipality to say my usage was extremely high.  This was the start of a payment exercise that has broken my measly bank account!

I quickly got out a leak detecting company who could find NO water leak so after spending hours with their listening devices (I assume wanted to save face) & told me they had a found a “leak” deep down, literally close to the Earth’s core!!! As I’m a questioning type of person I naturally asked them to show me but they maintained their equipment was picking it up but we couldn’t “see” it. Then the bills started to arrive. They said I had to replace all the piping leading up to this ghost leak (naturally at an enormous cost) and so I duly sucked up my worry and paid. And the pipes were replaced.

I had to sell the house (transfer was a few weeks later) and then when I moved the new owner said he wanted me to pay to have the pipes laid exactly as they had been when he’d signed his offer to purchase. Again I paid. I pay a monthly water loss levy to eThekwini so I submitted my claim through Westwood insurance in October last year. This amounted to R10 000 just for the “leak” detection, not even the larger amount I had to pay per municipality as per their meter.

When we had to get clearance from the municipality for the transfer of the house I had to then come up with just under R80 000 as they were adamant I’d used this water or that the fictional leak was still there. I then got another plumbing company in & they redid the pipes as per the new owners demands but they too couldn’t find a “leak”. So I had to pay more……

When I called eThekwini to find out when I was likely to be reimbursed the R10 000 I’d paid in October 2015 they pushed me from department to department, nobody could help me. I was eventually told that their system says there is a dispute listed and this should be resolved by March 2016?

I don’t have a leg to stand on – I’ve down close to R100 000 that I’ve been held to ransom to pay but no-one can tell me when or even If I’ll be reimbursed.

I’m a widow with small children to educate and I simply cannot afford to be left in this mess. I’ll wait with anticipation to see your response or outcome. I live in hope…

From Biznews community member Chris Pappas

You need to start by getting your ducks in order.  Do you have the handover docs that were signed the day the new meter was installed?

If not, request a copy from the council.  Next you need to monitor your meter for the next few days to determine what your consumption is. If there is a water leak on your side, you will quickly see it by the rate the meter is ticking over.

Did you have a prepaid meter previously installed or was it a regular postpaid meter? You’re right about them cutting you off. If you get your info quickly, you can raise a dispute while they sort out the problem and they can flag your account. This will only happen if you have concrete proof that the error is on their side. Examples would be that they loaded the opening meter reading incorrectly.

All municipalities were audited last year and the bill could be a result of previous errors in billing you and not necessarily your current billing. More info about your previous metering situation would assist in determining this.

The councils stand will be that the water was paid to rand water and therefore it must be charged on. It’s a difficult fight but I suggest stop calling the call centre and start visiting the COJ offices where you can try get your case escalated to the branch Director. Only at that time will you actually start getting info that actually matters.

It’s difficult to offer more advise as the info I have is limited.

From Biznews community member Tony Reddy

You’re not the only one, a friend of mine received an account this week of R110k.

Lots of speculation around the municipality recovery losses but obviously no facts.

From Biznews community member Henk Kruger

Referring to your water  issue.

Get a flow meter directly behind the one installed by CoJ.  That is between the CoJ meter and the main incomer to your premises.

Here is an example:

  1. You will notice that it is a clamp on.
  2. It also has a RS232 port for data exchange.
  3. Please ensure that it is SABS approved and calibrated to standards set by CoJ or whoever your area metering authority is.

The daily substantiating results can be used to settle a “dispute” and prompt a calibration test.

From Biznews community member Gavin Kennedy

I feel your pain!!!

A few years ago (at Bryanston High) we got a water bill for > R180k which we were “certain” was a mistake. Sadly – it wasn’t – months of estimated readings and watering of sports fields and filling pools – and then an ACTUAL reading and wham!!!

Shortly afterwards one of their meters stopped working and we immediately installed our own additional meters and took (almost) daily readings.

This had two effects…

  • we quickly noticed unusual usage on an almost daily basis (and uncovered kids leaving taps on, toilets running, pipes leaking Etc); and
  • when the Council eventually fixed their meter and sent a massive bill (based on previous high usage) we were able to show our regular “actual” readings for the same period.

This resulted in a credit of almost R500k against their estimates AND massive daily savings (and funded the tennis court revamps) 🙂

BUT – only after years of correspondence and our water being cut off (yes, at a school) so have a word with your neighbour about running a hosepipe over your wall soon.

Our strategy remains in place and we regularly all meters and verify against their accounts so we’re never shocked (pun intended as we do the same with electricity)

Here’s a lady who was (eventually) extremely helpful in getting our account sorted Lovey Sikwane <[email protected]>