Many municipalities all over South Africa are being roasted by residents for poor service delivery. In some cases consumers are withholding payment due to absent services such as refuse removal and in others the municipal billing system is so chaotic or ridiculously high that residents can’t afford to pay. The question is often asked: When can a municipality disconnect your electricity or other municipal services?
NGL Attorneys gives the following advice regarding the legalities of disconnecting such services:
Accounts in arrears
If one of your municipal services is in arrears, the municipality is well within their rights to disconnect whatever service when there are undisputed arrears owed to any other service in connection with the related property. Before any disconnection takes place, there is a procedure for the municipality to follow.
The municipality is legally obligated to give a notice to the person responsible for the account. A minimum of 14 days written notice of termination is required for water and electricity accounts in arrears and if the notice period is shorter than 14 days, or not supplied, the disconnection is illegal. The 14-day notice gives the responsible party an opportunity to present any disputes or queries they may have regarding the account or allow them to repay the arrears.
The query period
Once a query relating to the account has been put in, the municipality may not disconnect services provided that the amount being queried is equal to the amount in arrears. In the case where the amount is less that the amount in arrears, the service may be disconnected for the undisputed amount owing.
Payment of arrears
When a query has been logged, it can only be valid for so long provided that the monthly bill or any other related payments are being made to the respective account. If the responsible person does not make any form of payment, the service may be disconnected even if a logged query exists with the municipality.
State where the payment should go
If there is an account dispute and the responsible person makes a payment to the municipality, the municipality may choose to allocate that money to any account they wish to do so. This means the account in need of the payment may not have the payment made into it. To curb this, the responsible person must notify the municipality, in writing, of the payments being made as well as which account they should be allocated to. This must be done before payment is made.