Many Newcastle residents have been left astounded by a significant jump in their municipal bills at the end of August 2023. This unexpected rise in costs has left numerous residents grappling with financial challenges, provoking concerns as they seek answers to the dramatic surge in charges.
One resident, who opted to remain anonymous, expressed her exasperation as her municipal bill unexpectedly skyrocketed to over R3 000 from R2 452, despite her living alone with her youngest son.
“My husband and other son are currently overseas, so how is it possible that my municipal bill just keeps going up each month? This past month it went up over R3 000 and we didn’t use our stove or a heater and I am at work during the day.”
She further emphasised that this marks the second consecutive month of an unexplained increase in her municipal bill, intensifying anxieties about her family’s financial future. “I am now having to buy less food for my son and myself so that I can pay the municipal bill. I can’t pay less on my account or not pay it, because the Municipality will just cut it. At the moment, it feels like the Newcastle Municipality is giving us a choice of buying food or paying our bills.”
Another resident also shared her dismay, revealing that her municipal bill had surged by over R1000, exceeding R6000 from R5 300. “This is despite the fact that I’m at work throughout the day and the persistent load shedding. It currently feels like I might as well leave my water running all day and keep all the lights on,” expressed the resident, who also chose to remain anonymous.
In response to these mounting concerns, the Newcastle Municipality’s Communications Unit pointed to an increase in electricity consumption as the primary catalyst behind the surge in municipal bills.
“According to a survey done by the Department of Energy, households consume on average 36% more electricity in winter than in summer. This percentage is in the areas of South Africa that are subjected to colder winter temperatures such as Newcastle. This winter has been noted as one of the coldest winters in the last few years,” explained the Communications Unit.
Furthermore, the Communications Unit highlighted historical data that consistently identifies the highest electricity consumption during June, July, and August. “The consumption read in August is usually the highest for the year as it relates to midwinter usage. This, coupled with the increase in the electricity tariffs results in the largest bill of the year,” clarified the unit.
Concerns were also raised regarding the calibration of municipal meters. A municipal source disclosed that the Newcastle Municipality had not calibrated meters for an extended period, potentially affecting the accuracy of accounts.
In response to this issue, the Newcastle Municipality’s Communications Unit explained, “The department has not embarked on an initiative to calibrate e-meters, since that would be a project involving a huge capital outlay. But there are measures in place that keep the monthly readings of the E-Meters under constant check.”
However, the Municipality did not divulge specific details about these measures. Instead, the Communications Unit said that the consistency of each month’s reading is checked at the Budget and Treasury Office (BTO) against the previous readings. Any abnormal readings triggering significant deviations from the norm prompt investigations and testing by the Department.
Given these factors and the financial strain experienced by residents, the Newcastle Municipality’s Communications Unit stressed, “Electricity is an expensive source of energy, not only in South Africa but worldwide, and therefore consumers need to learn to use electricity sparingly. Consumers throughout the country especially in the colder parts of the country experience increased municipal bills during the winter months. Consumers need to therefore plan for the increased municipal bills during the winter months. However, residents are welcome to come to the Municipality to make payment arrangements on their consumer accounts.”
As for load shedding, when questioned about how power outages impacted electricity readings, the Newcastle Municipality noted, “Electricity consumption is measured according to the units that are consumed by a household. Each individual uses electricity according to his or her own needs.”
In addition to these explanations, the Newcastle Municipality said that it is taking proactive measures to enhance its collection rate, following a reported consumer debt of R1 billion.
This substantial debt has primarily resulted from nonpayment of municipal services, particularly in Newcastle East.
To read more on this debt, click here.
With this said, the Newcastle Municipality’s Communications Unit highlighted that the Municipality is currently implementing the following to increase its collection rates:
- Incentive schemes available to both business and individual consumers.
- The Newcastle Municipality is now a part of the COGTA pilot project to increase collections, this is a partnership for a period of six months ending 30 November 2023.
- Strict implementation of the credit control and debt collection policy.
- Consumer awareness programs (outreach programs) will run from September through to November, satellite offices will be set up at strategic venues covering all wards in Newcastle where the following services will be available:
- Indigent applications
- Incentive schemes
- Bill enquiries
- Water meter and electricity meter queries
As the Newcastle Municipality contends with the challenge of high municipal accounts, residents are encouraged to share their thoughts in the comments section below.