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'Pay up or be cut off'

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'Pay up or be cut off'

by Adri-Ann Peters
29 Nov 2006
Peoples Post
Peoples Post

Since the City of Cape Town embarked on a campaign this year to recoup a substantial portion of the R3,5 billion it is owed in outstanding rates and services fees, some residents claim the municipality is not making it any easier for them to financially redeem themselves.

In October this year, City Mayor Helen Zille called on all residents of the city to pay their accounts for sewerage, water, electricity and refuse removal. She urged those residents who cannot afford to do so to report to local rent offices, where they would be able to make special arrangements for alternative and more manageable payments.

Lavender Hill pensioner Tommy Booysen is one of thousands of residents who have fallen behind with payments due to his struggling financial situation.

But Booysen says that visits to the rent office in Steenberg to make arrangements to settle his debt have been difficult and frustrating.

Booysen received a pink-coloured final warning, stating that if he did not report to the offices before 7 November, his water would be reduced to a trickle-feed and his electricity rationed without warning.

The letter explained that the city would be forced to undertake legal proceedings to recover its money if he did not report to the offices at all.

His rates and services account is currently in arrears for more than R6 000 and, collectively, Booysen's bill for rental, rates and services amounts to slightly less than R20 000.

"I have worried a lot about my council bills over the last few months, ever since I received my pink letter.

"I worry because I wonder how I will be able to pay this big outstanding amount when I am alone here and my son has no work.

Although he has, since receiving the account, managed to make a payment on the account, speaking from the home he has been living in for over 30 years, Booysen added: It is difficult for me even to catch a taxi up and down to the Steenberg or Plumstead offices,"

The city's Director of Revenue, Derek Harris, explains that residents such as Booysen with a total household income of less than R1 640 a month who do not own more than one property qualify for relief in terms of the city's indigent policy, regardless of how big their debt is.

But these residents cannot make arrangements by telephone as documents need to be signed, so travelling to council offices is essential in order to avoid legal action by the city.

If residents are unemployed they need to provide an affidavit confirming their status and a declaration that they have no other source of income.

After helping Booysen to understand what the city required, the Independent Democrats (ID) councillor for the area, Trevor Trout, said last week that, despite the seemingly lenient policy laid out by the city, people such as Booysen are still at a disadvantage.

"When people visit the rent offices in Retreat they are still treated badly by the staff there and told to go all the way to places like the Plumstead offices if they have received pink letters.

"These people, some of them elderly and sick, are not able to get there in time and so they end up being taken to task," he said.

Trout suggested the city extended its means of assistance by having commission agents travel to the homes of such residents to make arrangements there.

"Why is the City of Cape Town demanding this money from people at such an inappropriate time? The year is drawing to a close and traditionally people are focusing on spending the money that they do have on enjoying the coming festive season," he said.

Llewellyn Jordaan, a Lavender Hill social worker, says the social services office at the New World Foundation is seeing a growing number of residents who are "scared and confused" because of warning letters they have received.

"You find families in Lavender Hill that have rent and services bills running into the thousands. Some feel they are within their rights to refuse to pay because of the poor condition of council flats, for instance. These are factors that contribute to the culture of non-payment in these communities," said Jordaan.

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