No joy for mom trying to reduce rates bill

Christine Saltonstall, who is R17 000 in arrears with her rates, believes that the City of Cape Town should compensate her because they misfiled her application for indigent relief as long ago as June 2017.

The single mother of two from Kommetjie said she was working as a freelancer in the film industry but because of the drought she hardly worked from March 2017 until October 2018.

“In June 2017 I applied for indigent benefit for rates and municipal services as I literally had no money, I was relying on donations from family and friends abroad to feed my family and on very sporadic work. I completed all the paperwork, being sent back and forth about three times by the Fish Hoek municipal office before my application was considered correct and complete.

“After a few months I started phoning the call centre and was told it could take up to one year for the application to be processed. I also visited the office and was told to contact the call centre. After a year of waiting, checking in every couple of months, I finally spoke to someone at the call centre who told me that my application had been filed ‘in the wrong place’ and that now it was outdated and that I had to reapply.

“I went back to the Fish Hoek office in September 2018, reapplied with the assistance of the supervisor and started the waiting game again. When I followed up in January 2019, I was told that they missed my bank statements and my signature, that they had sent a letter, which I didn’t receive; the period has lapsed again and I now had to reapply,” said Ms Saltonstall, who explained that she started working full time in October 2018 and no longer qualified for the rebate.

“However, I’m sitting with
R17 000 arrears due to them messing up my applications. Surely they should be able to process my application as they ‘misfiled’ it and I should be entitled to the rebate for the period I was earning under the threshold? In June 2017 I handed the application to Chantel, then to Sharon in 2018 who was at the Fish Hoek office but is apparently now at Plumstead. Subsequently I communicated with the supervisor Faried who was based at Fish Hoek but is apparently now in Plumstead.

“I really hope you can help me. I’ve just had to renew arrangements and they made me pay
R4 500 upfront, now I have to pay 25% of arrears before making another payment arrangement with the City. Which means I can’t pay my mortgage this month,” she said in December last year.

Deputy mayor and mayoral committee member for finance, Ian Neilson, said they have contacted Ms Saltonstall about her indigent applications since June 1 2017.

“Our investigations show that the first indigent application was submitted on June 1 but was not processed so it was not assessed to determine if Ms Saltonstall qualified for the benefit. Subsequently, the City‘s debt management department contacted her on December 11 2019 and she was told that based on her income at the time of that application (which was misfiled), she did not meet the indigent criteria and would not have received any indigent benefit.

“The second application was taken in on September 20 2018 to our Fish Hoek branch and submitted for processing. Ms Saltonstall however did not provide the required three months bank statements, and signed on the incorrect page. An SMS was sent on September 25 2018 to Ms Saltonstall advising that three months bank statements were required, and that the form was not signed on the correct page. A letter was sent to Ms Saltonstall on October 17 2018 with the same request and explaining that the form needed to be signed on the correct page and we closed the application as we had no response from Ms Saltonstall,” said Mr Neilson

When Ms Saltonstall followed up in January 2019, she was told about the additional requirements and because the second indigent application had lapsed she had to apply again.

“On March 27 2019 Ms Saltonstall visited the Fish Hoek office again as there was a restriction of water services due to the arrears on her account. The customer service agent assisted Ms Saltonstall in entering into a minimum payment arrangement of her current account plus R200 for six months, as her financial position had changed from that of potential indigent beneficiary. She paid the current account plus R200 towards the arrangement. Ms Saltonstall visited the Fish Hoek office on November 28 2019 to renew her payment arrangement which expired on September 27 2019. The customer service agent helped Ms Saltonstall with a payment arrangement on her current account plus R400 over 12 months and she was required to make an upfront payment of R4 500 in order to cover the shortfall of her previous arrangement. She defaulted on her previous arrangement as she paid short or skipped payments plus the current account for November 2019.

“We are unable to assess whether Ms Saltonstall meets the criteria to be registered as indigent since September 20 2018 up until November 28 2019, as she has not presented the required documents,” Mr Neilson said.

Ms Saltonstall did not respond to messages from Off My Trolley.