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CAN THE MUNICIPALITY CUT OFF YOUR ELECTRICITY?

Article by listed AttorneyNanika Prinsloo

It seems that so many people have so many problems with so many Municipalities in South Africa.  What if you are not happy with the Municipality and you don’t pay your rates and taxes but you do pay your electricity bill?  Can the Municipality cut off your electricity if you don’t pay your rates and taxes?

The answer is yes.  There is no obligation on the Municipality to provide you with electricity supply if you do not pay your rates and taxes.

In the court case of Rademan v Moqhaka Local Municipality 2013(4) SA 225 (CC) a Ms Rademan who resided within the district of the Moqhaka Municipality had enough of the poor service delivery by the aforementioned Municipality and did just that.  She paid her electricity account, but stopped paying her rates.  The Municipality then disconnected her electricity supply, despite that fact that her electricity account was paid up to date.

She approached the Magistrate’s court, who ordered the re-connection of the electricity supply.  This court said that the Municipality could not disconnect the electricity supply without obtaining a court order first.  Ms Rademan was presumably over the moon in her victory, but the happiness was short-lived, as the Municipality took the matter on appeal.

If one appeals against the decision of a Magistrate, one appeals to the High Court and this is just what the Municipality did.  If one is unhappy with the judge’s decision in the High Court, one takes the matter to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA).  The SCA is in situated in Bloemfontein and the courts are beautiful.

The matter ended up in the SCA and the SCA (Judge Zondo) found the following:

 The Municipality issues one single incorporated account for “services rendered”.  The statement that the Municipality (all Municipalities really) issue, includes the electricity, water, refuse, rates and taxes and other services that it may levy.  This statement is therefore a single consolidated debt. This single consolidated debt is payable as one amount. The consumer cannot choose which item he/she wants to pay.  Payments are allocated to the consolidated amount (in other words the grand total of the statement) and not to single items that appear on the statement.

The Municipal statements are issued in terms of the Municipal by-laws.  In terms of the by-laws the conditions of payment by consumers are that all the amounts on the statement must be paid, and not just some and the full amount is not paid, then the consumer is in arrears and the Municipality will be entitled to cut of the consumer’s electricity (or any other service, although in my personal opinion electricity is the easiest to cut off and is the one item that is most likely to induce a very quick payment of any arrears by any consumer).

In other words, the SCA found that the Municipality acted lawfully in cutting of Ms Rademan’s electricity because she did not pay her rates.