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Friday Feb 17, 2017

Couple's municipal bill nightmare has a happy ending

A comedy of errors turned out not to be so funny for Grant and Charmaine Stuart, of Ruimsig, when the City of Joburg's revenue department inadvertently placed a decimal point in the incorrect place on their municipal bill.

The couple has been battling since 2011 to rectify the matter. Their account of R726.88 and R1 177.79 was reflected as R72 688.00 and R117 779.20, respectively.

Charmaine said: "It is one of total frustration and the sheer realisation of how incompetent the City of Joburg billing department is. The journey began in June 2011 when we received that month's invoice showing a 'previous balance' of R50 969. Not to mention that our original May 2011 invoice reflected an amount outstanding of R3 060 which we had paid in full.

"After many calls to the billing department and sitting in their offices, no one could advise what this amount was for, neither could they give us a breakdown of costs.

"We refused to pay this amount until we had received a valid explanation and breakdown of costs, but agreed the current amounts on our account would be paid."

In October 2011, the couple was finally advised that this amount was definitely for "property taxes" and were told to visit the "valuations department" and the "adjustment department" in Braamfontein. At this stage, they appointed a private person to investigate, but

he could not obtain clarity. After receiving a "pre-termination notice" in July 2012, they advised the council of their query, but received no response.

"In June 2013, when another follow-up call was made, we were advised all queries from 2012 and 2011 were no longer on the council's computer system and that all queries logged older than 90 days ago were erased.

"On the August 26 2013, we received a letter from the National Consumer Commission - Complaints Handling Unit advising that they had received our complaint and had lodged it. Needless to say that was the last we heard from them."

In January 2015, the couple decided to start with the query from the beginning and visited the valuation department in Braamfontein.

"We discovered a copy of our invoice and an amount of R49 087 was reflecting in the property taxes section. We showed the original invoice reflecting R3 060 and the agent told us he would have to log a query with the 'back office' and gave us another reference number." He told the couple the matter would take three months to resolve. "We continued the monthly calls to the billing department but to no avail."

In August 2015, in sheer desperation, the couple contacted the ombudsman. "On February 18 last year, we received an e-mail advising the query had been forwarded to the assessment team. On March 18, we were further advised it had been referred to the revenue department for a 'comprehensive response'. "On April 28, we were advised a request had been made to the rates department to assist with a journal/ recon for the adjustment done on our account. In May last year, we received our invoice from the council showing an amount of R6 487 had been written off."

The next month the couple received their August invoice, only to find that instead of crediting their account with the R47 909, they had debited it showing that they owed R102 952.

"We are now in February 2017 and have sold our house and neither the council, nor the ombudsman, can actually get this matter finalised. The ombudsman has requested we attend a meeting on February 28 to resolve this matter. What for?"

But the story has a happy ending. Charmaine received a communication yesterday to say the problem had been resolved. "I am pleased to announce we have finally had our query resolved by the council and ombudsman. They have reversed the amounts and it will reflect on our March statement.

"A miracle five years later! It's a godsend to be clear of this problem after so many years," she said.

City Watch
The Star

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