Flush away woman's R130,000 water leak debt, public protector tells Tshwane

Gerda van Schalkwyk hopes her R130,000 water debt will be written off by the City of Tshwane.
Gerda van Schalkwyk hopes her R130,000 water debt will be written off by the City of Tshwane.
Image: 123RF/maridav

The public protector has directed the City of Tshwane to consider writing off the debt of a Pretoria resident who racked up a water bill of more than R250,000 due to an undetected underground leak.

Gerda van Schalkwyk approached the public protector in December 2018, alleging that the city council unduly delayed sending her an accurate bill, as a result of which she suffered improper prejudice.

“She knew something was horribly wrong when her daily water consumption suddenly shot up to 26.52 kilolitres on July 22 2015 from the regular consumption of 4.74kl,” said the public protector’s spokesperson, Oupa Segalwe.

“Her bill for the 92-day period from July 2 to October 2 2015 was a whopping R167,900.81.

“At that point, she considered other factors that may have led to the excessive consumption and sought the services of a leak detection plumber.

“The leak was detected on November 4 2015 and repaired. It was found below the ground surface, which is why she hadn’t been aware of it.”

Van Schalkwyk’s adviser, Joubert van Wyk, said his client was desperate to know how the municipality would respond to the public protector's instruction.

“We really hope that they are going to give her the benefit of the doubt because she suffered great losses. There is still a lot of the amount outstanding,” he said.

Van Schalkwyk had signed an acknowledgment of debt after being threatened with electricity and water disconnections.

In her submissions to the public protector, Van Schalkwyk said that if she had received accurate bills she would quickly have realised there was a leak.

Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane's investigation report said: “She was provided with estimated readings instead of actual readings.”

The seven months it took to produce an accurate bill prevented Van Schalkwyk from establishing she had a leak on her property.

“It was also established that the water meter was not situated on Ms Van Schalkwyk’s property but was nearly 40m out, on the street behind her dwelling,” said Segalwe.

“The public protector further found that the city charged Ms Van Schalkwyk interest on the account in the amount of approximately R30,000 and the leaked water was also charged at the highest step of the sliding scale tariff.”

Even though the city gave Van Schalkwyk a 50% discount, she remained R130,000 out of pocket.

Mkhwebane directed the city manager to send a written apology to Van Schalkwyk and to prepare a report about writing off her debt for consideration by the council.

City spokesperson Lindela Mashego said the legal department had not yet decided whether to appeal.

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