It’s that time of year again – when COJ starts disconnecting all over the City based on outstanding arrears.
This happens because COJ anticipates that people will get Christmas bonuses at the end of November that they can use to settle the arrears.
We have seen a marked increase in the past week in the number of disconnections without notice, and pre-termination notices being served, across the City, and we anticipate that the trend will continue into the first two weeks of December.
Please remember the following when preparing to protect your building/home from cut off over the festive season:
- If you don’t have a valid revenue related query/dispute logged in relation to a disputed amount, you can be cut off for non-payment of that amount.
- If you have a dispute with the City, ensure that valid queries/disputes have been logged with the City, in relation to a specific amount that appears on an invoice, for each account balance disputed. If you need more information on what constitutes a ‘valid query/dispute’ see this article: What Counts As A “Dispute” With A Municipality?
- Ensure that you make note of the date on which the query is obtained and the query reference number provided. If the call centre refuses to give you a query reference number, ask for an interaction number instead to prove you tried to log a query and you were refused that right.
- Your query/dispute needs to be for an amount equal to or more than the outstanding on the invoice. You can be cut off for R 1 of unpaid debt if you have not disputed it.
- The COJ can cut off electricity or water or both, for non-payment of any amount (including rates, refuse and sewer).
- Log queries every month because often the COJ closes the queries without resolving them. If you phone to follow up on your query and are told that your query is still open, keep a record of the person who advised you of this and the date and time of the call.
- If you have a rates dispute based on the incorrect valuation or categorisation and you have lodged an objection or appeal, log a query with the call centre to advise the COJ of your dispute on the revenue side – the revenue department will not know that you have a dispute based on your objection/appeal at the valuations department because the two departments don’t communicate in that way.
- If you receive a pre-termination notice deal with it immediately – the sooner you can make contact with the municipality to remind it of your query/dispute the better. Insist on written confirmation or a reference number as proof of confirmation that you will not be cut off.
- Arguably you must make payment of the undisputed current charges, or the average of the disputed service in order for your queries to remain as valid. Not making payment could prejudice you in court, getting decent payment terms and/or arranging for reconnection on an urgent basis.
- If you have a dispute pertaining to a faulty meter, you need to apply for a meter test and pay the prescribed fee. If you don’t do this and simply log a query, there is a risk that a court won’t come to your aid because you did not make use of this mechanisms to deal with the problem.
Persuading a contractor not to disconnect
- If someone arrives to cut your supply off, ask for a copy of their contractor card from either Joburg Water or City Power, proving that they do actually work for COJ (and/or its subsidiaries). Often fraudsters use notices that they find in the post to illicit bribes by posing as contractors who have been sent to cut off.
- Ask them for a copy of the disconnection card which they must leave at your premises when disconnecting you.
- It is unlawful to deny the contractors sent to cut you off access to the meters, so don’t deny them access or get aggressive with them (as they may leave and return with the police). It is a criminal offence to deny them access and you may end up defending criminal charges if you deny them access.
- Do not pay bribes. There is a risk that the dishonest person taking the bribe will tell COJ that he/she cut you off, in which case your meters might be removed entirely if COJ detects that you are still using supply after you have been disconnected. You will then have a much bigger problem to deal with because it can take weeks to have meters and cables restored (or damage done to them when removing repaired), particularly to larger properties.
- Try to (politely but firmly) persuade them not to disconnect on the basis of your dispute. Show them your documentation (it often helps to keep this handy and to make sure that all of your staff, security, and tenants are aware and have copies handy, just in case). If you have a court order, keep it handy and keep your attorney’s number with the court order, in case you need to contact them urgently.
- If this doesn’t work, take photos of the contractors and their vehicles. Ask them for their mobile numbers and full names and ID numbers. This information is needed in order to get them back to reconnect, or if it was a fraudster and not a contractor, to establish that this is the case.
- The City often disconnects its consumers on a Friday afternoon, which makes arranging for an urgent reconnection rather difficult. These are the most difficult kinds of disconnections to deal with for logistical reasons, so take care to avoid being disconnected as much as is possible.
If you are unable to dissuade the contractors from disconnecting your services, please feel free to contact us at any time to assist with the reconnection via urgent court application, payment arrangement or re-installation of meters.
Chantelle Gladwin-Wood: 0833781916
Maike Gohl: 0716802256
Anja van Wijk: 0780955761