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Boycotting rates is unlawful, however justified it may feel

Date: 2023-08-14 09:01:30

Boycotting rates is unlawful, however justified it may feel

WITH the current tough economic climate, heeding the call to boycott payments of rates may feel justified, but the law is clear that non-payment for services is unlawful. The Municipality is required to fulfil its Constitutional mandate and relies on certain legislated income streams to deliver on its responsibilities. The implementation of the legislated income streams was approved as part of the budget after extensive consultation with all key stakeholders during April and May this year.

This resulted in some of the tariff increases being reduced. We acknowledge some of the frustrations about service delivery lapses that are experienced by communities, but not paying for rates is a bad idea. Not only is it unlawful, but it is also risky on many fronts. We are continuously exploring ways to improve how we deliver services to communities, and we will continue streamlining our service delivery model to ensure that service delivery is provided in a satisfactory and sustainable manner. Revenue from property rates is used to fund services that benefit the community as opposed to individual households.

These services include constructing and maintaining roads, sidewalks, lighting, and storm drainage facilities, operating parks, recreational facilities, and cemeteries. More than 75% of Municipal rates are used to fund public transport, roads, public safety, health services, and sports and recreation. Not paying rates means that the Municipality will not be able to provide these services. Property rates revenue is also used to fund Municipal administration, such as computer equipment and stationery, and costs of governance, such as council and community meetings, which facilitate community participation on Integrated Development Plans (IDPs) and Municipal budgets. These services are provided in accordance with the local government mandate. Property owners are expected to pay the Municipality for these services and cannot simply “opt-out” of payment.

It is worth noting that payments for water and electricity are not taxes. These are consumption charges or services. Here, consumers only pay for what they use. We therefore remind ratepayers that it is unlawful to withhold the payment of property rates for any reason. To understand why this is the case, we need to distinguish between “rates” and “taxes” and other services (such as electricity and water services). Section 24 (1) of the Municipal Property Rates Act of 2004 states that “a rate levied by a municipality on a property must be paid by the owner of the property, subject to Chapter 9 (Credit Control and Debt Collection) of the Municipal Systems Act.” We encourage residents to continue paying their accounts as non-payment will attract interest.

The Municipality will continue implementing credit control measures in line with the relevant policies and municipal by-laws where accounts are in arrears. This includes disconnections which attracts a reconnection fee, provided there is no tampering with the meter. If there are illegal connections, the meter will be removed, and the new application process will have to be followed to get a new meter. In terms of section 24.1 of the City’s credit control policy, “Should any dispute arise with respect to the amount owing, the debtor must continue to make regular payments based on the average charges for the preceding three (3) months prior to the dispute, plus interest where applicable.”

Therefore, it is unacceptable and unlawful not to pay valid Municipal accounts. The Municipality is on a consolidated account billing system in terms of Section 102 of the Municipal Systems Act. This means that rates, service charges, levies, sundry charges, duties, and any surcharges are billed on one account so any arrears on rates, services or any other consolidated debt may result in disconnection of any service or in a restriction of use of Municipal facilities. With respect to property rates, Section 50(6) of the Municipal Property Rates Act provides that the lodging of an objection does not defer liability of payment of rates beyond the date determined for payment.

Accordingly, credit control activities will not be put on hold while the objection is being resolved. Anyone considering boycotting paying for rates would be wise to consider a 2013 Constitutional Court judgment in a Liebenberg v Berg Rivier Municipality matter. Paragraph 79 of the judgement reads: “Local Government is an important tier of public administration as any. It has to continue functioning for the common good; it, however, cannot do so efficiently and effectively if every person who has a grievance about the conduct of a public official or a governmental structure were to take the law into his or her own hands or resort to self-help by withholding payment for services rendered. That conduct carries with it the potential for chaos and anarchy and can therefore not be appropriate.

We also draw residents’ attention to a recent report in the Sunday Times about a Northwest Ratepayers Association which withheld payments for nearly 10 years in protest against tariff increases and poor service delivery. Speaking from experience, the Ratepayers Association has advised against withholding payment saying it is a losing battle that will affect other Ratepayers Associations badly in the long run. Each household is urged to educate itself and make informed decisions instead of following a mob mentality and engaging in unlawful acts. There are definite risks to withholding municipal payments and paying monies into trust accounts/ other structures. We thank all residents for prioritising and paying their Municipal bills. We are grateful for this as it ensures the delivery of services and the financial sustainability of the City.