Councillors call for debt policy review

Mitchell’s Plain councillors are calling on the City of Cape Town to review its debt management policy so that it assists rather than negatively impacts pensioners and cash-strapped citizens.

Goawa Timm, councillor for Ward 76, which includes Lentegeur, and Joan Woodman, councillor for Ward 75, which includes Woodlands, Colorado Park and surrounding areas, voiced their concerns during a meeting at which various departments were represented to answer residents’questions about service delivery, at Lentegeur civic centre on Wednesday November 20.

The City’s Credit Control and Debt Collection Policy makes allowance for senior citizens or indigent residents to approach the City and access the range of benefits based on their total household income.

All those who are deemed indigent in terms of the policy have the benefit of a once-off debt write-off on condition that they agree to the installation of a water management device and a pre-paid electricity meter.

Both councillors complained that the revenue services department, which received the most queries, was not present at the meeting.

More than 15 seniors who attended, listed their details for the councillors to look into their municipal bills being in arrears, water being cut, explanations for their bills and payment arrangements.

“Every day people queue at my office or I attend seniors’ club meetings to address their queries. Most of them have the same problem,” said Ms Timm.

She said many pensioners had their children and grandchildren living on the property, who should help their parents pay for the municipal bills.

“If it was just the pensioner couple living on the property they could better manage their municipal bills but this is not the case for most Mitchell’s Plain households.”

Ms Woodman said while pensioners applied for rates rebates and social grants, they still had bills to pay.

“There is not much you can do with your pension but if your municipal bill is sorted then there is one less bill to worry about,” she said.

Ismail Arendse, 78, from Lentegeur, who has three other adults and two children living on his property, had been charged a “dunning fee”.

When the Plainsman asked the City of Cape Town what this was, mayoral committee member for water and waste, Xanthea Limberg, explained it was a fee charged for debt management notices which were generated when an account was in arrears.

She said the consumption figures logged for Mr Arendse’s property were consistent with historical consumption.

“Should he nonetheless dispute the consumption that the meter has registered, he may have it tested. If it is found to be faulty, then his account will be adjusted accordingly, but if not, then he will need to cover the cost of the meter test,” she said.

A Beacon Valley pensioner told the Plainsman that only he and his wife lived on their property but their water and electricity bills were much too high.

“We use these resources sparingly. My wife works. We only use the electrical stove on a Sunday. We have had plumbers check it out but there is no problem,” he said. His average monthly municipal rates bill was R1 500.

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Ian Neilson, mayoral committee member for finance, said the representative to this sub-council programme had sent an apology before the meeting, as the representative could not attend.

“Any financial queries arising during the meeting and the details of the enquirer could be sent on to the finance representative for a response. The minutes of this meeting should reflect this,” he said.

He added that the seniors’ details should be sent to the City, which could be investigated on the merits of each particular case and responded to with the relevant facts.

Mr Neilson said additional information may be required once all documentation was received.

He said all residents who were struggling to pay their municipal accounts must go to the nearest City customer care office to get advice on how to either apply for indigent or rates rebates benefits or if they did not qualify for either of these, to enter into a payment arrangement to pay off debts to avoid debt management and legal actions from being instituted.

“There is help on offer and ignoring the situation will not make it go away,” he said.

Residents who are the property owner may register for the following assistance:

Rates rebates benefits if they are 60 years and older and receiving some form of pension and the total household income is R17 500 or less a month.

One of the City’s indigent benefits (any age if their total household income is less than R4 500 a month (full indigent benefits).

Rates reduction of 25% to 75% if their total household income is between R4 500 and R6 000 a month.

Once the applications for registration for rates rebates for seniors who are 60 years and older and who have a pension have been verified and approved, the rates amounts for all the applicable months will be reversed and backdated to July 1, this year.

Pensioners and social grant beneficiaries can visit their local walk-in centre or send an email with the necessary information to rates.rebate@capetown.gov.za; download the application form for pensioners and social grant beneficiaries at http://www.capetown.gov.za/City-Connect/Apply/Financial-relief-and-rebates/Individuals/Apply-for-senior-citizen-support

The website also lists the documents which must be included with applications.

Submit the completed form to any municipal revenue walk-in office or post the documents to Director Revenue, City of Cape Town, PO Box 655, Cape Town, 8000.

For more information residents are welcome to visit any one of the City walk-in centres or their nearest housing office, or to contact the City’s Call Centre on 0860 103 089.