You never quite know when life is going to throw a curveball your way: just when you think you are on top of things and all your admin is about to be taken care of, you come across a bill that simply doesn’t make sense. Your electricity reading seems to be very different from last month’s. The reason? There is an astronomical amount you allegedly owe. However, it’s an amount that you are 100% certain is inaccurate. Now, you are wondering how to dispute an electricity bill in South Africa?

Is this a regular occurrence? How often do South Africans get inaccurate municipal bill readings?

Sadly, it is quite common for residents and business owners across the country to receive erroneous electricity or water bills. Of course, we are not always just talking about a few odd rands: in 2015, a Gauteng resident was informed that he owes R1.2 million on his electricity bill, after a series of inaccurate and unauthorised installation of a smart meter; and in 2017 residents in Morningside, Johannesburg, were also confronted with a significantly higher-than-usual monthly reading, to name just a few.

What does the law say about the obligation of municipalities regarding the matter?

Since municipalities are responsible for essential service delivery, which includes the effective management of and correct billing and charges for water, electricity and sanitation, they are regulated by The Municipal System Act (no.32 of 2000). Remember, these services are basic human rights and protected by the highest law in the land, our Constitution.

“The same Act, section 102 (2), to be specific, states that citizens have the right to complain should they want to dispute an inaccurate reading, irregular amount due and suspicious tariff increases,” explains Adv. Jackie Nagtegaal, LAW FOR ALL’s Managing Director.

Ok, so what’s the best way to dispute an electricity bill in South Africa?

This can be quite the process, but it’s advisable to write a formal letter to the manager of your municipality. Follow these steps:

  1. Describe in as much detail as possible what the discrepancy on your account is, and provide evidence as well (for example, send two or three previous bills that can roughly determine an average amount you usually pay to compare it to the inaccurate statement in question)
  2. Be sure to include that you are aware of the fact that the municipality, by law, cannot shut your electricity off for “arrears” until the dispute has been settled.
  3. You must address the letter to the municipality manager and deliver it in person. Make sure you get a signed proof of receipt.
  4. As a back-up, email versions of the letter to the manager (and send an electronic copy to the municipality’s finance department as well).

From there, the municipality is meant to investigate the matter and provide you with a report of the breakdown of the correct account information.

“It’s worth noting that the municipality is not allowed to disconnect your electricity while the investigation into the disputed amount is underway. That said, be sure to keep up with the payment of your account as usual, because they are legally allowed to take action for any other payments that are in arrears,” advises Nagtegaal.

What are my options if I am not satisfied with the municipality’s findings?

Fear not – you haven’t reached a dead end: you can either seek legal action or approached the National Energy Regulator of SA (NERSA). The Electricity Regulation Act, 2006 (Act No. 4 of 2006) mandates NERSA, among other things, to resolve disputes between suppliers of electricity and their customers, as well as between suppliers themselves.

If you were not happy with the way your supplier handled your complaint, NERSA could help you.

How to prevent inaccurate electricity meter readings in South Africa.

If the event that you become suspicious of being overcharged or irregular charging, here are some tips to follow:

  • Double-check that the meter number stipulated on the electricity bill matches the one on the actual meter on your property.
  • Take monthly photos of your meter readings to use as evidence if you need some back when disputing a suspicious amount.
  • Always contact your local municipal office immediately to raise the issue and ensure you receive a reference number for your query.
  • It might also be a good idea to install a prepaid meter so that you can track your electricity usage more closely.

 Do not leave your electricity bill unpaid (even while waiting for a dispute to be resolved)

Should you regularly skip payments and your account is in arrears, the municipality has the right (after giving a 14-day notice period) to disconnect your electricity, and should it persist, hand you over to lawyers and, ultimately, you could receive an adverse credit listing.

Keep the lights on!

No one wants to be left in the dark when it comes to matters relating to basic services, so it is important to brush up on the processes you should follow, and what the law says about what a municipal department is and isn’t legally allowed to do.

We’ve Got Your Back!

LAW FOR ALL can provide legal advice and help write a letter to dispute the reading/charges. LAW FOR All’s mediators can also negotiate on the policyholder’s behalf. They will email, call, write letters and make follow-ups until there is an outcome. If the matter is not resolved, the mediator can assist in referring the matter to NERSA, if need be. For more information on how LAW FOR ALL can become your friend in times of need and help you navigate life have a look at our policies here.