Prepaid electricity users forced to pay debt
Residents who are in arrears with their municipal accounts and use prepaid electricity are in for a shock when they next purchase power.
The municipality is now deducting 40% of the amount tendered for power and taking it towards the settlement of the debt. This will apply to residents in all towns in the Dr Beyers Naudé Local Municipality.
A furore erupted on social media last Wednesday evening when one irate resident posted on a local trading site about her experience when buying pre-paid electricity. She paid R100 at a local outlet and only received 38.1 units instead of the expected 63.4 units.
On inspecting the slip, she noticed an arrear collection charge of R40, which caused considerable confusion initially as “how can a PRE-PAID meter be in arrears?”
After some discussion, a copy of a notice, issued by the municipality, was posted on the site, and it became clear that the arrears concerned would be for water, rates or other service charges.
The notice, signed by the Municipal Manager Dr Edward Rankwana, stated that all pre-payment users were advised that the municipality is deducting 40% from pre-payment sales to settle arrear municipal accounts.
“Therefore, if you purchase electricity for R100, you will be issued with electricity for R60, and the R40 will be credited to your arrear accounts,” explained Dr Rankwana in the notice. Apparently, the system was tested on 12 November (presumably successfully, according to the municipality’s criteria) and is now being implemented.
The notice concluded by encouraging residents in the Dr Beyers Naudé Local Municipality who are affected by this, to visit their local revenue department to make the necessary arrangement to pay all arrears.
This explanation did not satisfy the resident concerned, as she was adamant that her account was up to date. When contacted by the Graaff-reinet Advertiser last Thursday, the lady said she had visited the revenue department, and was told that the system had not reconciled a payment and that the deduction was, in fact, an error. It would seem from the discussion on social media that this error has also affected many other ratepayers. One resident commented that he wondered how many other innocent people have been affected, but had not noticed the discrepancy.
When the Advertiser submitted further questions on the matter, acting communications officer Wilca Smith responded, on behalf on the municipal manager, that this percentage deduction will only be implemented if the municipal account is in arrears for 30 days.
The response also stated that the municipality had already sent letters of demand to all affected consumers, and is in the process of sending out final demands. She added that legal action will then be taken should the consumer not make arrangements to pay or settle their debt.
Another resident who had the same experience of money being subtracted for debt, admitted that her account actually is in arrears, but is adamant that she had received no letter of demand from the municipality.
Notices about the deductions for account arrears have been put up at the payment points in the municipal offices, but the majority of customers questioned on this still did not understand why they had not received the full amount of electricity they had paid for.
Smith confirmed that only those consumers who buy their electricity from the municipality are affected by this debt collection. Those who buy their power directly from Eskom, even if their municipal accounts are in arrears, cannot have money deducted towards these debts.
It is well known that the Dr Beyers Naudé Local Municipality (BNLM) is in debt to Eskom to the tune of over R30m, and just a month ago Eskom issued a dire directive that some towns in certain municipalities (including BNLM) would have their electricity supply withheld for long periods of the day, starting from 30 October, if no payment arrangements were made by the municipality.
At the last minute, BNLM came to an agreement with Eskom, and the threat was removed, and it is assumed that this arrears collection penalty is part of the recovery of arrear municipal debt - indeed, this is the title of the municipality’s document.
What has raised the ire of most people is the lack of warning and notification of this arrears collection process, and questions have been raised as to the legality of taking money intended for one service and using it to repay another debt.
Therefore, if you purchase electricity for R100, you will be issued with electricity for R60, and the R40 will be credited to your arrear accounts.
The badly vandalised Graaff-reinet railway station building.
Transnet plans to demolish the old Graaff-reinet railway station building.