Confusion over response to water leak

Brian Joss

Do the City of Cape Town’s call centre agents read the messages they get from frustrated citizens?

Or do they just press the reply button and send the standard response.

Andrew Bennie complained in January about a leaking water meter on the pavement outside his property in Flamingo Vlei, Table View, for which he was billed R14 000.

“Dear Mr Bennie, Thank you for writing to the City of Cape Town. Please advise any information about the leak at or near the water meter, in order to assist. Please note that Cape Town is in the midst of a serious drought,” the call centre agent wrote, after Mr Bennie reported the leak.

However, in January, the call centre agent did ask Mr Bennie to “provide us with your *name*; *physical address / location*; *account number* (if this relates to your property), and please include a detailed description of the fault/complaint.”

Mr Bennie told the agent, Z Jattiem, “Thank you for your response to my email. I am disappointed however to note that your response is simply a standard notification concerning leaks and does not address my concern at all. Furthermore I have subsequently received a disconnection warning dated September 23 (2020) so it seems that as far as the City is concerned that there is no need for further discussion and that my concern over the fact that the wasted water was not consumed by me but leaked out onto the pavement is irrelevant. I would, even at this late stage appreciate some appreciable response to my concern.”

In June, Mr Bennie wrote, “Having received my account for the month of June 2020, I am quite taken aback at the amount I am to pay for water usage.

“I have used water as sparingly as possible since water restrictions were first imposed and can only conclude that the consumption as recorded is as the result of the leak at the water meter as reported and subsequently repaired. I do not believe that I should be charged for water I have not consumed. The water leak was not on my property but at the meter on the pavement and as such could not have been totally used by me. I would appreciate it if the facts as stated could be taken into consideration and that I be presented with a revised account.”

It’s not clear from the trail of correspondence that Mr Bennie sent when he provided the details.

But it appears he did give them to the municipality in January.

When he complained to me in October he just sent me a one-liner asking me to investigate and he included his name and the suburb where he lives. It took a few days before he responded to my request for his address, erf and account number.

Mr Bennie said he didn’t know when the leak occurred but some time before he notified the municipality by email he reported it telephonically.

“I was notified that the leak had been logged and that it would be taken care of. I don’t recall when that phone call was made.

“I also do not know when the repair was done as I was not notified that it was to be done. I assume some time in June since it was at the end of that month that I received the huge bill. This was obviously the first time since the meter was no longer flooded and could be read.”

When there is a leak on your property it is your responsibility but if it is at the meter on the pavement then the City of Cape Town must repair it.

However, none of the agents informed Mr Bennie.

When I sent Mr Bennie’s letter to the City of Cape Town they acted with alacrity.

Mayoral committee member for water and waste, Xanthea Limberg, confirmed this.

“The City of Cape Town’s water and sanitation department is responsible for the meter on the pavement,” she said.

“Do the call centre agents read the emails or do they just send an automatic response and if they do read them, how do you explain the responses from the two agents, none of whom addressed the problem,” I asked.

“Based on the evidence collected, no automatic responses were sent. It appears that the resident removed some of the City’s correspondence as is evident from the emails.

“The call centre duly arranged for the leak to be fixed when it was reported. In response to the resident’s email dated January 30 *2019 (*It was 2020), the call centre agent correctly created a customer request for the water meter leak to be attended to and provided him with the reference number for this request. The meter was fixed following the creation of this service request.

“Regarding the subsequent enquiry into the possible effects of the previous leak on his account, the contact agent should have initially been more specific with regard to additional information that was required.

“The City’s water and sanitation department will liaise with the call centre to ensure that more specific questions are provided at the outset.

“Regrettably, the agent who responded to the resident’s follow-up email, dated June 28 2020, did not follow proper procedure.

This matter will be addressed with the employee concerned, in line with the City’s formal procedures.

“The City will contact the resident and his account will be adjusted for the period where it was affected by the leak,” Ms Limberg said.

Mr Bennie said, “Thank you so very much for your assistance with resolving this issue.”