A Johannesburg man made headlines this week after being asked to pay more than R17 million for his water bill.
According to TimesLive, Nico Niemand has been fighting his case with the City of Johannesburg since 2015 after they installed new prepaid meters.
City of Joburg spokesperson Kgamanyane Stan Maphologela said the billing error was the result of a technical misalignment, and that measures have been put in place to ensure that something similar does not happen again.
He added that the bill has since been reversed.
Faulty water meters
This is not the first time that South African have faced extreme water bills, and in a number of cases the issue has progressed to court.
Legal firm Wright Rose-Innes explains that in the case of Euphorbia Gallagher Estates v City of Johannesburg, the applicant (Gallagher Estates) was sued by the municipality for several million rand which the municipality alleged was owed to it as a result of water and sewage charges due and payable by Gallagher Estates to the municipality.
Gallagher Estate’s response was that the charges the municipality was seeking to recover were based on a faulty water meter and accordingly that these amounts were not lawfully owing.
One of the issues that the court had to decide on was whether the duty of proving that the consumer was incorrectly billed lies on the consumer or whether proving that the consumer was correctly billed lies on the municipality.
“In the case it was found that Gallagher Estates was legally not allowed to remove and test the meter because the legal entitlement was reserved for the municipality,” Wright Rose-Innes said.
“Accordingly, because the applicant was not in the possession of all the information that it needed to prove that the meter was not functioning properly due to the fact that only the municipality was legally entitled to remove and test the meter, in the applicant with the responsibility of proving that the meter was not functioning as it would be much easier for the municipality to prove that the meter was working than for the consumer to prove that it was not.”
From this case it can be deduced that in metering disputes with a municipality it is not the consumer’s responsibility to prove that the charges billed are wrong or based on a non-functioning meter, it said.
“It is rather the municipality’s responsibility to first prove that the charges are correct and based on a functioning meter. If a consumer disputes the alleged consumption and lodges a query, the burden then rests on the municipality to investigate the issue, and the meter, if necessary to confirm whether the alleged amounts billed are correct,” it said.
“We would advise lodging a formal query with the municipality to investigate the meter, and should the municipality not adhere to the request to through your attorney inform the municipality of their responsibility to do so as stipulated in the above case.