How estimated billing affects your utility bill

Estimated billing

Some residents might feel they are overbilled when receiving their December utility bill. Be aware that your municipality might use estimated billing over this period.

Estimated billing is not an uncommon practice and it is used extensively throughout many municipalities, as well as by many utility management companies. The estimation of water and electricity readings are a contentious issue for unhappy residents who feel it is sometimes unfairly inflated. This is often due to actual meter readings not being recorded.

How meter readings work 

For accuracy, actual meter readings are usually physically recorded by a meter reader on a monthly basis. In some municipalities, residents can submit their own readings which are then audited by meter readers for any possible exceptions. Estimated readings are used when no physical readings were taken or submitted and are based on your previous average usage.    

In Pretoria for example, the City of Tshwane employs its own meter readers, but also makes use of private service providers where needed. However, due to budget constraints the proper reading of meters is often lacking. Estimations are then implemented over a long period of time which leads to disputes. 

How residents can assist 

While municipalities are mostly at fault for inaccurate estimations, residents are sometimes partly to blame too. Access to meters are often restricted – with residents who outright deny meter readers access to the meters on private property. 

Complaint resolution 

If estimated billing is used it is only fair for municipalities to offer complaint resolution mechanisms to resolve consumer complaints. In October 2021 the Public Protector ruled that these mechanisms are ineffective in the City of Tshwane and the council had 60 days to review and improve the systems. 

While residents will never be 100% happy with estimated billing, it is an accepted norm that will happen from time-to-time. Remember when we were placed under strict lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic? Any over-or-under billing should be adjusted accordingly when the next round of actual readings are taken. 

It is advised that residents keep a close eye on their bills and use the resolution mechanisms provided by municipalities when you suspect billing errors.

Residents may also consider installing their own conventional sub-meter to serve as a “check” meter that runs off of the bulk supply. Thereby being able to check the kWh recorded and charged against that of the municipality.    

Here’s how to better manage your utility bill 
  • If you submit your own meter readings, do so accurately and timeously preferably on the same date each month. 
  • If your meters are inside your property arrange or plan to give access to meter readers when they do readings in your neighbourhood.
  • Don’t just accept the municipality’s readings as correct. Keep a close eye on your meter. 
  • Take photos of the readings as proof and document the date and time. 
  • Report meters that you suspect are faulty to your municipality.  

Oxer’s used to estimate readings over the December period in the past due to annual shutdowns; however, this practice has been done away with where possible. Estimated readings can cause an ‘increased’ bill even though you might have been away for a large part of December.