Sharing neighbour’s lights bill for nine years

Sometimes things have unintended consequences. Danie van Huyssteen accepted the municipality’s offer of a free pre-paid electricity meter after a pamphlet offering the service was dropped in the post box at his Melkbosstrand home.

Mr Van Huyssteen said he can commiserate with Rosemary Davis as he also had a problem with Elex Khanyisa, the project managers who were acting for the City of Cape Town (“Meters replaced at end of lifespan”, Off My Trolley July 26).

“We also received the offer of pre-paid meters installed free of charge. We contacted Elex Khanyisa and within a few days the technician, Darren, arrived to install it. However, he found that my electricity meter was connected to my neighbour’s feed and his was connected to me,” Mr Van Huyssteen said.

“I assume this must have happened about nine years ago when the overhead power lines were replaced with underground cables and the electricity meters were moved to a utility kiosk on the pavement.

“In a comparison with my neighbour’s bill over the last 11 months I had overpaid by R3 360 and I am sure that it would amount to a substantial amount over nine years.

“The prepaid meters were installed at both houses in June and since then I have been paying for my own usage for the first time in many years. I sent four emails to Algernon Clayton on June 22, June 26, July 17 and July 25 but I had no response (Mr Van Huyssteen is not alone, Ms Davis didn’t get a response either). I also sent three emails to the municipality but all I got was an acknowledgement of receipt that they would reply within 31 days and a reference number. My next step is to approach our councillor, Norah Grose, unless you can help,” said Mr Van Huyssteen.

I contacted the municipality and a few days later Mr Van Huyssteen told me that R11 613 would be credited to his account.

Mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services; and energy, Xanthea Limberg, agreed with Mr Van Huyssteen that the mix-up probably occurred when the powerlines were moved underground.

The City had since reviewed “procedures, business practices and accountability” and have adjusted processes “to help guard against similar incidents”.

“Mr Van Huyssteen’s account will be reconciled once the relevant processes have been followed and he has been contacted,” Ms Limberg said.

Asked why it takes 31 days to resolve billing issues, she said: “Turn-around time for normal billing queries is five working days. However, highly complex queries could take up to a year to resolve if a dispute is lodged.

“In this case billing records have to be validated and the results audited before any account reversal is authorised.”

Mr Van Huyssteen said he was grateful for the credit of R11 613.

“However, it is only for the last three years as they are applying the prescription rule. I find this very disappointing as I am the only loser in this scenario. The municipality is not losing a penny and my neighbour is smiling all the way to the bank.

“If the R11 613 is divided by three years it gives an average of just under R4 000 a year. Assuming an average of only R1 000 annually over the previous six years from the time of the City’s admitted ‘screw-up’ by them my neighbour owes me at least another R6 000. I am not trying to be greedy, all I ask for is a fair settlement.

“Thank you for your assistance, it is greatly appreciated,” said Mr Van Huyssteen.

However, Mr Van Huyssteen’s neighbour is not so happy.

“My neighbour is bitterly upset that the municipality had debited his bill with an amount of
R4 308.82 being the difference in our electricity meters over the last 12 months and that it has now been rectified.

“I told him he can regard himself lucky. What about the eight other years that I subsidised his electricity bill. I find it strange that the municipality did not apply the prescription rule to him,” said Mr Van Huyssteen who is planning to ask the National Credit Regulator (NCR) for their view on prescription in this instance. Watch this space.