Wendy on challenges of the new metro bill

Wendy on challenges of the new metro bill

Mention the words “metro bill” to an eThekwini resident and you’re likely to get an eye roll, an exasperated sigh or a slightly stronger reaction.

Water - file photo
Getty Images, ECR Consumerwatch

That’s because the municipality’s bills for the last couple of months have been, well, problematic, to put it mildly.

In a nutshell, eThekwini Municipality moved accounts to a new billing system at the beginning of last month, a process that had been 12 years in the making and involved more than 1,1 million accounts, and in order to make that happen they had to  shut down the entire billing system for the last two months of June, which means that the bills many people are getting now, cover July’s four weeks of consumption, plus those two last weeks of June.

But that’s not the only reasons why our current bills are so high - there was a tariff increase which came into effect on July 1, plus the fact that we tend to use more electricity in winter.

So all in all, a lot of people are faced with having to pay much higher bills, and naturally they’re not at all happy about it.

A hefty bill

Hemraj Rajkumar is one of them. In an email to the municipality, copied to Consumerwatch, he asked: “Why am I being charged for 40 days, and 10 days for July,” she asked. "Why 51 days in total? she said in email to the city, copied to Consumerwatch.

“How can the estimated consumption be more than the meter reading? We normally pay less than R100 for water, now you want us to pay R375, almost four times the norm. Somebody is not doing their job right.”

We are being made to pay only for what we have consumed, but bill spike this month is really unfortunate, because our salaries don’t spike, and coming out of the blue, many Durban residents have not budgeted for the extra.

Compounding the confusion and unhappiness is the fact that last month many people didn't get bills, myself included.

In a statement last month, Mayor James Nxumalo said the delay in receiving bills was not related to the implementation of the new billing system. But he didn’t say what it was attributed to.

So what do people do when they haven’t got their bill, or they get an unusually high one? They try to get hold of the municipality to get answers.

I tried that last week - I held on for 44 minutes, 44 minutes during which there was no indication of where I was in the queue and how long I could expect to wait for someone to take my call.

So I gave up.

And went looking for answers as a journalist.

Wendy meets with eThekwini officials 

That’s how I came to be sitting around a table with two municipal officials on Tuesday: head of the city’s Revenue Management Unit Peet du Plessis, and billing manager Archie van der Meer.

So what’s up with the call centre which clearly can’t handle the volume of calls coming in, I asked.

The 32 permanent call centre staff have been joined by 10 temporary employees, I was told. But it’s virtually impossible to keep up with the current calls.

“The volumes of queries at the call centre has been high; we acknowledge that,” van der Meer said. “Obviously that's because of the billing being a little irregular and the charges perhaps not being fully understood. We do envisage the volume of calls reducing and that August will see us through the worst of this changeover.”

Asked why ratepayers hadn’t been given fair warning of the billing system change and the impact of that on municipal bills, the officials said they had to test data migration with small batches of accounts, and if it didn’t work, they would have delayed implementation, which is why they made no prior announcements. 

There’s another problem. The new bill looks completely different from the old one, which isn’t sitting well with many.

Van der Meer acknowledged that.

“The  new bill is different; I think it’s going to take a bit of getting used to by the public,” he said. “We are trying to tweak that to make it more user-friendly and we welcome any suggestions in that regard, but I think it’s also going to be a process of just getting used to the new fonts and set-out which will take a few months.. “

Listeners who want to offer their comments, criticisms and suggestions about the new format bill are welcome to email me - [email protected] - and I’ll forward them to the officials.

What to do 

There are other ways to contact the municipality:  You can also email [email protected]  for example, but don’t be in too much of a hurry for a response - you’ll be waiting up to a week. 

And you don’t need to rely on the postal service to get your bill. You can register online under the Municipality’s e-Services application (www.durban.gov.za) and see it there.

When you’ve registered you can opt to receive your bill by e-mail, or download the Municipal app to view your bill. 

I certainly intend to do that. 

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