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July 12, 2012

“Water, Water, Everywhere”: When Can Council Cut You Off?

“Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Coleridge) What are your rights when you are fighting with your local municipality over a municipal services account, and they cut off your water?

The Supreme Court of Appeal recently clarified the legal principles applicable –

  • Water supply is not just a personal right in terms of your supply contract with the municipal supplier – it is also underpinned by statutory and basic Constitutional rights.
  • Any “limitation or discontinuation” of water services must therefore be “fair and equitable”.

In the case in question, a caravan park owner disputed a claim by the municipality for R182,000 arrears on a water account.  Nonetheless the municipality demanded full payment and then – relying on its water and debt collection by-laws – cut off the park’s water supply when the owner failed to pay.

The park owner rushed off to the local magistrate’s court and obtained an order directing the municipality to reconnect the water supply.  This order was upheld twice on appeal, the Supreme Court of Appeal ultimately holding that in light of the municipality’s decision to summarily disconnect the water supply without first following its own dispute resolution procedures, the disconnection was not “fair and equitable”.

Note that a dispute as to arrears will not absolve you from the duty to pay for normal ongoing monthly consumption, and that the outcome of this particular case would in all likelihood have gone Council’s way had it followed its own dispute resolution procedures properly before disconnection.  Take advice in doubt!

© DotNews, 2005-2012. This newsletter is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice.

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