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City questions Sol’s debt policy…..as well messages received regarding non payment of accounts

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The erroneous messages were part of a batch of messages apparently sent out earlier this week

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WHILE city residents are fuming after they received messages regarding the non-payment of their municipal accounts, despite their accounts being up to date, questions have been raised about why the details of current debtors have been handed over to outside debt collectors.

The messages, which have been sent to several municipal account holders, state: “We have noticed that your Sol Plaatje Municipal account was not paid by the due date. Payment should be made on/before the 4th January or your services will be terminated. Please ignore if payment has been made.”

Residents who received the SMS pointed out that they were being threatened with disconnection for an account that was only due on January 15.

“I am totally fed-up with this nonsense. It is a clear sign of incompetence,” one irate resident pointed out.

The messages, which are believed to have been erroneously sent to more than 1 200 account holders, were from New Integrated Credit Solutions (NCIS), a debt collection company appointed by the municipality to collect outstanding debt owed to the local authority.

The erroneous messages were part of a batch of messages apparently sent out earlier this week.

The municipality yesterday apologised for the SMS, stating that: “The Sol Plaatje Municipality apologises for sending an SMS to disconnect your services, which is still current and in good order. Thank you for the payments received. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

The apology has, however, done little to appease residents, who have questioned why current accounts were being managed by the outside-appointed debt collection agent.

“Is this company being paid a percentage of current debt that is coming in to the municipality,” one resident asked. “I thought they were only dealing with debt that is long outstanding.”

It appears as if the municipality sends its payment file each month to the debt collection company, who picks up those residents whose accounts are in arrears and then batch messages are sent out, reminding defaulters to pay.

“Why are we paying an outside company to do the work that should be done by the municipality’s own debtors’ management section? Are they not capable of doing this work and how much are we, as ratepayers’ paying for this service,” the resident asked.

Another resident questioned the methods used by the company.

“A message was sent to me last month, also regarding the non-payment of my municipal account, even though my account was not in arrears. What concerned me though is that the SMS was sent to my daughter’s phone. The only way those details could have been obtained was if the information had been purchased from the cellphone service provider, as they would be the only ones who would be able to link my name to another cellphone number. When I questioned the municipality in this regard, I was informed that they had appointed an outside service provider.

“The provisions of the new Protection of Personal Informations Act state that even if functions are outsourced, the municipality is still responsible. It is obvious that they are using dubious means to obtain information not legally entitled to them.”

Sol Plaatje Municipal spokesperson, Sello Matsie, confirmed yesterday the company appointed as the service provider was only responsible for collecting 60 days plus arrear debt on businesses and residential debtors as contracted.

He added that the municipality’s credit control section was collecting all outstanding municipal debt, including current residential and business debt, government and other categories.

Regarding the sharing of personal information, Matsie pointed out that when applying for municipal services, prospective service users provided contact details on application forms as part of minimum information required.

“This information is used for debt recovery when implementing credit control policies on non-paying accounts.”

He did not respond to inquiries about how much money had already been collected by the debt collection company or how much had been paid over by the municipality for the services.

According to a presentation prepared for the October Finance Committee meeting, there are around 51 600 accounts that are 60 days or more in arrears with a total debt of more than R1.3 billion. The company, however, recommended that around 6 200 were deceased estates, a further 6 000 plus were indigent accounts, 9 000 were below the summons balance and almost 3 000 could not be traced.

In January last year the council wrote off 8 300 accounts of indigents, totalling R86 million, and 4 858 accounts of deceased estates totalling R204 million. A further 4 766, totalling R192.5 million, of deceased estates were also written off in March last year.