Durban – A Bluff pensioner Josephine Stone, 91, has been slapped with a municipal rates bill of over R140 000 after the eThekwini Municipality scrapped its deferred rate payment agreements from July this year.
Her family has now turned to crowdfunding site BackaBuddy to try and save their grandmother’s home of 75 years.
In the past, the deferred payment agreements were signed by pensioners who were unable to pay their rates, and which allowed the municipality to claim outstanding amounts from the pensioner’s estate when they died.
The eThekwini Municipality confirmed yesterday that the cancellation of the deferred rates payment facility will be applied to all pensioners who signed such agreements. Pensioners will have to come up with the accrued amount which is likely to be hefty.
Stone’s grand-daughter Caryn Ferriere said her grandmother received notification from the municipality in April, about the cancellation of the rates deferment facility from July.
“My gran is on a government pension of less than R2000 and has just received an account of R143 863 for rates. She was very upset when I explained this to her.
“She signed a rates deferment agreement about 15 years ago, when she acknowledged she had reached a point where she could not pay her rates anymore.
“She has been in that house since she was 16 years old and, if she is forced to move out, it will kill her,” said Ferriere.
Stone lives on the property with her two dogs and parrot, where she is cared for by her daughter (Ferriere’s mother) who stays in a flat on the property.
Ferriere said her grandmother also let an underprivileged couple who had no home, stay in one of the outbuildings.
Ferreire approached the municipality to negotiate a payment plan, which has changed. She was initially told her grandmother would have to make a 10% upfront payment with the balance over 3 years (36 months), but after further negotiation was offered 5% upfront payment and balance over 60 months. Ferreire received another email advising a 5% upfront payment was required with the balance owing over 2 years (24 months).
On Friday the municipality confirmed a 60 month repayment plan with no interest, with a 5% upfront amount to be paid.
Ferriere said the option of a pensioner rebate was offered to Stone a few years ago, but Stone could not afford the rates on that payment option.
Having to pay back the total amount now deferred, Ferriere requested the pensioner rebate to be backdated and applied to the deferred amount on her grandmother’s account.
But the municipality said yesterday, that no backdating of the pensioner rebate will be allowed with regard to cancelled rates deferment agreements, but that application for the rebate can be made going forward.
“The Rebate has budgetary implications and current tariffs do not have allowance to backdate the rebate. All deferred rate payers were invited with the implementation of the new legislation in 2008 to voluntary move over to the rebate system, some chose not to change,” said eThekwini Municipality spokesperson, Msawakhe Mayisela. He did not disclose the number of ratepayers who are affected.
Ferreire said, “I have been to the municipality, begging for help on how to resolve this so my gran can live out her last few years in her home.
“I started the fundraising campaign on BackaBuddy this week as a last resort. Maybe by some miracle, some will find it in their hearts to help. Every cent raised will go towards the owed rates,” she said, adding that she had been short of work since the lockdown and her mother was also on a government pension, so finances within the family are tight.
The Legal Resource Centre’s communication officer Thabo Ramphobole said, it would investigate the matter further, while human rights activist, Mary de Haas said, “It sounds like gross injustice and a serious violation of this pensioner’s rights. Especially when there is so much irregular spending in the municipality which is currently under investigation.
“We seem to have very few people left to take up these kinds of issues for those who cannot afford it.”
The rates deferment facility was provided for in terms of Section 170 of the Local Authorities Ordinance No. 25 of 1974 and was subject to an annual revision. The Municipality stated in a letter to affected ratepayers that it revisited the policy in light of this legislation being repealed.
Independent on Saturday