Mysterious case of the escalating bills …

Paula de Jager, whose Facebook post about high water bills received a flurry of responses.

A Facebook post about a sudden, inexplicably high water bill by a Tokai resident attracted an influx of responses.

Paula de Jager posted on the Tokai Community group page: “Has anyone in the area had a horrendously high water bill lately?”

In two posts on the subject, Ms De Jager described how her water bill had escalated from just under R1 100 to R8 000.

“After paying more than R8 000 for water in March and April (because we dare not, not pay), loads of aggravation and throwing toys out of the cot, we have received a bill for R1 100. This just isn’t possible! No idea how to even try and sort this out,” she said on Facebook.

According Ms De Jager, there had been no major changes in her family’s water consumption that could account for the sudden rise.

“We have a borehole so we don’t use water for the garden. It’s quite concerning.”

Ms De Jager’s husband, who works in the building industry, had thoroughly inspected their property for leaks or faults but found none.

On Thursday June 30, she said: “We just had people from the council at the house now to look at the meter. They said we can have the meter tested.”

Testing the meter would come with extra strings attached though. If the meter is found to be working correctly the family will foot the cost of the test and the bill.

“How do you fight with council?” she asked “They just cut your water and you actually can’t fight with them.”

Ms De Jager’s Facebook posts received a flurry of advice from group members but others had stories to tell of even higher bills.

Tracy Efstathiou said: “Council didn’t come and check my meter for four months.”

Then very suddenly in January Ms Efstathiou received a bill for R40 000.

“My average water bill was R700 to R1 500 a month,” she said. “We were told to just pay it and ‘we’ll sort it out later’,” she said.

Ms Efstathiou called, emailed and personally visited the council offices to try and get the matter resolved but to no avail.

Initially Ms Efstathiou could not account for the sudden steep increase in water consumption.

“We haven’t used excessive water,” she said.

However, she later discovered that her landlord had installed a new irrigation system which accounted for the increase but Ms Efstathiou is still challenging the bill because the accumulated amount for the unbilled months, pushed her onto a higher consumption tariff – resulting in an extra R20 000 on the bill.

Ms Efstatiou therefore contracted a lawyer to assist her.

“I think this is completely unfair as first of all it should have been spread out over four months and second of all if they had come to check my meter and done their job I would have noticed there was a serious problem with the water consumption,” she said.

Another Tokai resident said on Facebook: “We stopped using municipal water in November 2015 and our water account dropped to R140 a month until April this year, then it shot up to R1 100. My husband queried it and was told that it was an actual meter reading.

“Last month the account was R1 800. We checked the meter this morning and it was flooded with water and was illegible.

“We dried out the well and took a reading – it was lower than the reading in the April account. “We have sent an email to the City of Cape Town. I have read a few comments on this forum about inflated water bills. It might be an idea to check your meter readings and compare them to your account.”

Another posted: “We had the same problem for three months. What they say we were using was physically impossible. We called in a plumber to check for leaks and also to check if perhaps our meter was damaged. That turned out fine. We eventually had to put a lock on our outside tap. We also called the council numerous times and then it was corrected – with no explanation whatsoever. The whole thing didn’t make sense.”

The City’s mayoral committee member for utility services, Ernest Sonnenberg, said customers can log complaints at the call centre at 0860 103 089; by emailing accounts@capetown.gov.za or at the municipal accounts enquiries offices.

“Each of the queries would need to be investigated,” Mr Sonnenberg said.

Increases in water and sanitation accounts could be caused by a variety of reasons such as:

* Increased consumption

* Incorrect reading

* Actual readings after period of estimated readings, which means that low estimates made when officials cannot access the meter would be corrected.

“Should a subsequent reading reflect that actual usage was higher than estimated usage, the account will be adjusted accordingly,” Mr Sonnenberg said.

* Leaks

“Residents should perform a leak check to establish whether there are any leaks on the property which could be contributing. An easy way to establish this is to turn off all water on the property, wait half an hour to ensure the geyser is full, and monitor the meter to check whether consumption continues to increase.

“If an underground leak is found to be the cause of the increase the resident may be eligible for an underground leaks rebate.”

* Faulty appliances

“A failed pressure reducing valves on hot water cylinders will result in an unnoticed leak to the nearby gutter via the drain pipe of the valve. Dripping taps could also contribute. A fast drip that will fill a 340ml cooldrink can in one minute will add 14kl to an account in a month. This could contribute significantly to water bills, especially on properties with high water usage.”

* A faulty meter

“If the resident suspects their meter may be faulty, they can arrange to have it tested for an additional fee which will be refunded if the calibrated water meter is found to be faulty.”