Unfairly charged for meter tampering

The City of Cape Town accused Sylvia Afrikaner of tampering with her prepaid meter and charged her for electricity she didn’t use.

MsAfrikanercomplained about it on March 22 last year but they only sent an inspector, Jerome Goslett, to the Bonteheuwel woman’s home on August 5 where he installed a new meter after confirming that the seals had been tampered with. After an investigation, the municipality said that a 50% recovery charge was due to Ms Afrikaner.

For over a year, she has been trying to get justice, said Marion Ellis of Tamboerskloof who wrote to me on behalf of her long-serving char.

I know the wheels of justice grind slowly but this is exceedingly slow even for a bloated bureaucracy. And to add insult to injury, one of the many officials who was dealing with the issue was, I thought, quite offensive, in one communication.

Ms Ellis said because of the City’s ineptitude, the situation hasn’t been resolved, the tampering is continuing and Ms Afrikaner, who lives in a council house, has been incorrectly registered as the culprit and billed for the usage.

“The meter is registered to 85 Hydrangea Street which is shared between five units. Ms Afrikaner lives at 7 Cannabis Way, 5 Cannabis Way and 20 Panoster Square are in the same family and 20 Panoster reportedly tampered with the meter, which was confirmed in a letter from Peter Swart of Revenue Protection, and 22 and 24 Panoster Square,” Ms Ellis said.

Mr Goslett went to investigate on August 5 and installed a new meter. However, on August 18, Mr Goslett returned to Cannabis Way and told No 5 that Ms Afrikaner had laid the complaint which resulted in a verbal altercation between them. On August 21, Mr Goslett logged a report saying the seals had been tampered with.

“We wrote to Mr Swart on January 10 explaining what had happened and told him that we had been advised that ‘a recovery amount of 50% was due’ to Ms Afrikaner. We also asked him what action would be taken against people found guilty of tampering with a meter.

“Mr Swart in a memo told Mr Goslett the contravention was wrongly made out to Ms Afrikaner and he should retract the contravention notice issued to Ms Afrikaner and issue a new one. But it wasn’t done,” Ms Ellis said.

Several municipal officials were copied in the correspondence. One of them was Keith Storber, who in response to Ms Ellis’s query, wrote on May 2: “This query has already been replied to ad nauseum (sic) by all and sundry. The consumer’s account has been corrected and that which was charged incorrectly has been credited to her rates account. The matter is now considered finalised.”

Not strictly true. On May 7, Ms Ellis was still trying to get confirmation in writing. Besides, Mr Storber’s tone was offensive. What if the shoe was on the other foot?

Ms Afrikaner also wanted a separate pre-paid meter but because she was in “arrears”, permission was refused. I suggested that she contact the Public Protector who may be able to help.

So what did the City say? Media manager, Luthando Tyhalibongo, said: “We are implementing a system in areas where metering components are housed on the street and tampering is prevalent. It is linked to a customer interface in the home where residents can load their prepaid purchases. This facilitates easier inspection where tampering is suspected. In this case, while all the families’ metering infrastructure is housed in the same distribution box, their electricity is metered individually.

“Tampering in this case occurred at the distribution box and all connected properties were affected. The contravention was mistakenly loaded onto the account of Ms Afrikaner, however, this has now been rectified. Ms Afrikaner has been informed that her account has been adjusted. The contravention notice was withdrawn in January 2018 and payments made to cover misdirected tampering charges totalling R945 were credited to her rates account during April. Any stress this mistake has caused is regretted.”