Can people living on a shared property apply for indigent support?

Can people living on a shared property apply for indigent support?

The short answer

Different municipalities have their own policies. Check with yours and if you can apply, discuss installing a pre-paid meter with your landlord.

The whole question

Dear Athalie

I am a pensioner renting a granny bedsitter on a property shared with my landlord. I’m worried about how much my landlord is charging me for water and electricity. He charges me R3 per unit of power. Do I pay the same per unit power and water as the main house? Can I apply for indigent support?

The long answer

Let’s start with the free municipal services and indigent support:

Free Basic Water is 6 kL (6,000 litres) per household per month. Any water used over and above the free supply has to be paid for.

Free Basic Electricity is 50 kWh per household per month (1 unit of electricity is equal to 1 kWh).

Users who have pre-paid electricity meters can see when the free electricity is used up and will have to buy more electricity at their own expense. Pre-payment water meters automatically disconnect once the Free Basic Water supply is used up, unless more water is paid for and loaded.

Users with conventional or credit meters will not be able to see easily when they have used up their units and will be charged for additional use at the end of each month.

Each municipality has its own arrangements, so you should check with your municipality on its arrangements. For example, the Overstrand municipality in the Western Cape says you can apply for indigent support if:

  • The total household income of people staying on the property is not more than R8,801.00

  • Average units’ electricity purchased do not exceed 500 kWh per month

  • Average consumption of water over the previous 6 months does not exceed 20 kL per month.

If you are in arrears with any municipal accounts, you have to settle those before you can apply for indigent status. For indigent status in Cape Town, you need to be registered with the City as indigent in terms of the City’s Credit Control and Debt Collection Policy.

The Lifeline Tariff in Cape Town is a special, highly subsidised tariff intended to provide relief to prepaid customers with limited means. No service charge applies to the Lifeline Tariff. The Lifeline Tariff must be requested by the customer – it is not applied automatically – and you must have a prepayment meter.

In assessing a customer, the average consumption of electricity over the previous 12 months is used. If you are a pensioner with a prepayment meter and you receive less than 450 kWh a month (including any free electricity), you qualify for the Lifeline Tariff. A customer whose previous 12-month average consumption is above 450 kWh is automatically moved to the Domestic Tariff in September and March of each year.

The City says that under the Lifeline Tariff you will be eligible for Free Basic Electricity as follows:

  • 60 kWh if you receive less than 250 kWh per month on average taken over the previous 12-month assessment period, including any free electricity;

  • 25 kWh if you receive more than 250 kWh but less than 450 kWh per month on average taken over the previous 12-month assessment period, including any free electricity.

You would have to contact the City of Cape Town via their call centre number, 0860 103 089, to see if you qualify.

Every municipality sets its own water tariffs and structures them in a more complicated way than residential electricity tariffs. This tariff structure is known as block tariffs, where the price per unit of water increases in blocks as usage increases.

(Households that are registered as indigent with the City of Cape Town are charged at a lower rate.)

Enbaya PrePaid Meters says that the Constitutional Court ruled that it is perfectly legal to install a prepaid water meter on your property, provided it does not interfere with the main supply. They explain that once the credit value on the meter is depleted, the meter’s shut off valve will close and prevent any further water from entering the premises. They say that as the tenant is taking responsibility for their own usage and purchase, it remains their responsibility to purchase a new token to credit the meter so that it can resume supply. The landlord or property owner is not allowed to disable the meter.

They go on to explain that the tariffs on the sub-meters are set according to the municipal account received during the registration process. Unless you are a registered as an electricity re-seller with NERSA (National Energy Regulator South Africa), you are expressly forbidden to make a profit on the sale of electricity. They say that the property owner can however recover the extra costs incurred, like network charges.

Private Property says, “For tenants, prepaid electricity and water meters enable them to monitor their usage and manage their budgets accordingly. For landlords, a prepaid meter eliminates the risk of being stuck with a massive utilities bill if tenants don’t pay.”

So prepaid meters are a win/win situation for both tenant and landlord.

In a discussion on pre-paid meters on a 4×4 Community forum blog, one landlord explained how it worked in practice for him: two rental units on his property had their own pre-paid meters for both water and power. The two units on sub-meters paid only for their own consumption which was credited to his account after deduction of the admin fees by the meter company. That meant that he received credit to his accounts equal to their payments (less the charges), effectively leaving him more or less paying for his own net usage.

So, perhaps the place to start is by finding out if you can register for indigent support with the municipality and if so, discussing the instalment of a pre-paid meter with your landlord.

Wishing you the best,