“Some guys have got accounts for over R100 000,” said Peter Neave, chairperson of the Cedarville and Districts Farmers Association, who also received a letter. “We have many questions, but we’re not getting answers from Eskom.” James Anderson, who farms 2 850ha beef, maize and wheat in Cedarville, was shocked when he received a backdated bill for R36 000 and has since declared a dispute with Eskom.
“They used unsubstantiated assumptions to arrive at an estimate of my consumption and backdated it to 2005,” he said. “I’ve yet to see a month-to-month breakdown of how they got to that figure. I asked them for the test results of my meters and for the old meters to be returned, so I can have them independently tested. They haven’t met any of my requests. They’re being incredibly defensive about it and hoping people will just pay.”
One of the disputed issues is how far back Eskom can backdate accounts. “I believe they can only go back three years from the notification date,” said Anderson. Eskom first came into the area in 1983 and only returned to check meters in 1998 to find many were faulty, and that some had been tampered with. “Eskom has been slack and is now trying to penalise us and recover money,” said Anderson.
“I sympathise with them, but they must do a better job of ensuring the meters are maintained correctly. If a chap has deliberately tampered with his meter and tried to deceive Eskom, none of us will condone that. But I never tampered with my meter.”
Eskom rejected a 30% settlement offer Anderson had made. “My advice to people who receive a letter is to acknowledge receipt and declare a dispute straight away. Then Eskom’s hands are tied and they have to get back to you to sort it out,” said Anderson. TAU deputy general manager Chris van Zyl said they found problems in Brits and northern KZN and requested a meeting with Eskom. Eskom told TAU there were two problems – incorrect energy use readings, and meter tampering.
“They couldn’t quantify the latter, but they gave us an indication that it was general practice in some areas and I believe that people who were previously in Eskom’s employment offered their services.” Eskom’s Doug Bashford, who heads up the Revenue Recovery Project, requested more time to answer Farmer’s Weekly’s questions due to a pressing work load.