In the 2016 case of Euphorbia (Pty) Ltd t/a Gallagher Estates v City of Johannesburg, the City of Johannesburg (“the City“) instituted action against Euphorbia for arrears in respect of water supply, effluent and incidental charges derived from water meter readings. The City had installed a new water meter to measure the water consumption at Gallagher Estates premises. The meter was however read for the first time two years later and the account delivered to Euphorbia pursuant thereto, revealed a spike of 13 times the historic average consumption measured by the old meter.
Euphorbia, alarmed by the water consumption as reflected on their account from the City, requested that the City test the water meter. The City removed the meter for testing purposes and advised that the meter was not faulty and the amount as claimed was indeed correct. The City then installed another water meter, disposing of the meter removed for testing. The meter readings obtained from this new meter revealed water consumption three times less than the quantities measured by the tested meter
Euphorbia made payments to the City based on its own calculations as it continued to dispute its liability for the full payment as per the City’s account.
The Court held that the onus to prove a consumer’s indebtedness fell on the City including the onus to prove the accuracy and correctness of the water meter readings. The Court held that a consumer cannot be expected to pierce the municipal veil to prove that the water meter readings were correct as these metres are controlled by the City and it was easier for the City to examine and prove that the meter was indeed working correctly. The City was unable to provide conclusive proof that the meter was not faulty and accordingly Euphorbia was found not to be liable to pay the charges based on the reading obtained from the meter concerned.
In light hereof, it is important to monitor your monthly consumption accounts and any sudden fluctuation in respect of the charges levied should be reported. A query can be lodged with the applicable municipality who shall be obliged to investigate. It is best to raise this query as soon as possible in an attempt to avoid having such services disconnected for non-payment.
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