The contractor who is responsible for the installation, repairing, maintenance and/or removal of either an electricity meter or a water meter on every property in South Africa is required to fill in an official job card. This municipal job card holds all the information regarding the installation/repair/removal of the meter and is handed over to the municipality. This municipal job card becomes an important part of the debt collection process when the municipality follows up on unpaid invoices.
If customers want to dispute a particular consumption invoice, the municipal job card becomes an important document for both the municipality and the consumer. The municipality will use the job card within the municipal billing department to rectify a billing mistake. Otherwise, the customer can use the job card to prove the fact that they were incorrectly billed and can be used in court if the issue is in litigation. However, municipalities have been withholding municipal job cards from consumers when asked for them. This is illegal for a number of reasons.
- The most important reason as to why this is illegal is because it means that a third party (the municipality in this case) is withholding important information that is relevant to the account holder and is needed by them in order to legally protect themselves.
- This goes directly against the Consumer Protection Act because the job card holds information that is needed by the consumer to dispute a billing mistake.
- The municipality cannot issue a summons, issue credit control measures, black-list or cut services if there is a billing dispute in progress. The dispute needs to be concluded, and this cannot happen if the municipality is withholding job cards.
- Withholding municipal job cards, and starting the debt collection process against the consumer, shows a lack of accountability and transparency on the part of the municipal government.
Consumers must ensure that they collect all the documents and information concerning their dispute with the municipality so that the information may be used in court after the outset of the municipality’s debt collection process.