Newcastle residents maintain that they are being ripped off by the same municipality that is supposed to be looking after their best interests.

This comes after a public meeting called by the fledgling Newcastle Residents Forum (NRF) at Trim Park on Wednesday. This follows the previous Sunday’s meeting where the mayor, Dr Ntuthuko Mahlaba addressed the community at the same venue, leaving residents dissatisfied with his explanation.

NRF chairperson, businessman Mdu Mnisi, said: “On Wednesday, the residents signed the endorsements to mandate the members of Newcastle Residents Forum. We agreed on keeping the interim committee since this is in the formation stage. At the meeting, residents signed the ‘notice of dispute’ that the municipality was forcing them to pay
for services like water, electricity, rates and taxes.”

The forum’s researcher, Lindokuhle Sithebe said that the body was moving away from strike action and pursuing a legal route. He said that the way forward involved the NRF serving a notice to the Newcastle Municipality, lodging an official dispute.

“If we lodge this dispute in terms of Section 102 (2) of the Municipal Systems Act 32 of 2000, it means that the municipality will not be able to cut off our electricity until this matter is resolved,” said Sithebe.

He said that since the NFR will represent a huge number of residents, it would be necessary for each account holder to register their signature and details on an accompanying letter that gives the forum the power to act on behalf of residents. “The letter and all the signatures will be attached to the notice that is served to the municipality on behalf of all of us,” said Sithebe.

He said the notice was being served on the grounds of ‘inaccurate billing’ despite numerous cost-saving measures put in place by consumers. “We have exhausted every cost-saving measure. We freeze in winter because we don’t use heaters. We switch off geysers. We use gas instead of electricity and so much more, yet the bills continue
to rise instead of going down,” Sithebe said.

He explained that in terms of meter reading, the Customer Care, Credit Control Act and Debt Collection Policy states that estimations must be done between ‘actual successive readings’, however if the meter was unable to be read and an estimation was done, then the estimated consumption would have to be adjusted in accordance with the actual consumption on the following billing.

This act shows that they cannot be estimating indefinitely and that there has to be actual successive readings. If an estimation is done, it must be adjusted accordingly.These things are not being done.

“The notice asks the municipality for proof of these compliance measures as well as proof of actual meter readings sheets used to bill consumers as well as proof of adjustments made on bills in cases when meter readings were estimated,” he said. The NRF requested residents to supply copies of their utility accounts for the last six months to allow them to corroborate this information against what the municipality would provide.

Mnisi said that the first batch of signatures were already handed to the municipality and that the forum will continue to send though more disputes in batches as it is received.

Mnisi added the NRF planned to contact the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) to ascertain whether the municipality’s block tariff charges for usage of electricity was correct.