How good is your municipal water account?
Research has shown that customers of municipal entities in many countries struggle to understand their municipal accounts. The Water Research Commission (WRC), through a recent study, has created a platform to address this issue.
South African consumers have the right to information in plain and understandable language on their municipal accounts, according to the Consumer Protection Act (No. 68 of 2008). The study by Sarah Slabbert Associates for the WRC reports that, of the 35 South African municipal accounts scored on an Instrument of Critical Analysis, only seven accounts scored 50% or more in the categories ‘clarity and accessibility in language’ and ‘clarity and accessibility in layout and design’.
Cape Town is the frontrunner in South Africa with the best practice for domestic water accounts, summarising the most important information on the front page and giving a detailed breakdown of the tariff structure for each service on the back page. The weakest accounts omit key information, use meaningless codes, and the overall design and layout is poor.
Municipal water accounts are predominantly in English and Afrikaans, while other African languages are still ignored.
Municipalities are guided in their billing process by the Municipal Systems Act (No. 32 of 2000). Of the 35 analysed accounts, Cape Town Metro, Johannesburg Metro, and the new accounts of Tshwane Metro and eThekwini Metro, are the only ones that comply fully with legislation in their billing process. In most cases the tariff structure is not indicated, which seriously undermines account integrity as consumers do not know what they are paying for.
Accurate meter reading is the cornerstone of account integrity. Cape Town, Tshwane and Johannesburg are the only municipalities in the sample that distinguish between estimated and actual readings. National Treasury stipulates that estimated meter readings should not be taken for more than three consecutive months.
Only Cape Town Metro, Drakenstein Local Municipality, Ekurhuleni Metro, Tshwane Metro and Ugu District Municipality provide dedicated ‘customer care’ information on their accounts, the rest only provide general contact numbers.
Jay Bhagwan, the WRC manager of the study, says that “customers with a poor culture of payment for water services need to be educated about the cost chain for water”. Water accounts, if used properly, present a significant opportunity to engage customers in water conservation, water regulation and planning. Of the 35 accounts analysed, only Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, Msukaligwa Local Municipality and Silulumanzi Water Service Provider have water conservation information on their accounts.
The WRC considers the standardisation of water accounts an essential mechanism to steer municipalities, financial services, businesses and customers towards quality and efficiency in water management. The study also explored the use of alternative technology-based billing systems, such as emails and cell phone messages, as a way of reducing the use of current expensive processes.
The standardisation of basic criteria for domestic water accounts in a National Guideline document will both serve customers and help to conserve precious water and thus, reduce the energy footprint.
Compiled by : Hlengiwe Cele
Knowledge Dissemination Officer
Tel:+27 012 330 9006