I offer this as a cautionary tale. The City of Cape Town has a trap built into its tariff schedules, whereby a low electricity consumer can find himself trapped on the highest tarriff charge.


At the beginning of July, I had to buy electricity from the local supermarket, after the paycity service was terminated. I was horrified to discover that I was being charged at the upper end of the Lifeline (cough) tariff, i.e. at R2.10 / kWh, despite being a relatively low-order consumer, never breaching 400 kWh per month, including the free allocation. I duly sent a query to the City, which was never answered.


On reading through the tariff charges brochure, I realised that I had fallen into a trap: electricity purchases are not charged according to average consumption, as I had previously believed, but according to purchase within a calendar month (p. 29 of the City brochure). Here’s the story: on 4 June, I purchased R330 electricity, which yielded 388kWh. On 2 July, I had to recharge again, and purchased R380 electricity, diligently building in the tariff increase. However, for this I received a paltry 180kWh, which lasted just under half a month…more than a 100% increase. This, it turns out, is because I hadn’t let a calendar month go by before recharging again. According to the city’s ‘system’, I had purchased 530 units within the calendar month from 4 June to 4 July, and was charged accordingly, even though I did not come anywhere near consuming that many. To compound matters, I made another R350 purchase on 13 July to see out the rest of the month, for a pathetic 166kWh, trapped on the highest tariff charge (significantly higher, in fact, than a domestic tariff consumer who consumes in excess of 600kWh per month!)


The moral of the story, then, is that if you run out of electricity within the calendar month, do not do a full recharge: top up to the end of the calendar month (in my case, this would have been the purchase of 22 kWh, or about R25), and then recharge again after the calendar month ‘expires’. An expensive mistake on my part, costing more than R380 for this month alone. This is a high price to pay for not being up-to-the-minute on the calendar month!


However, I can’t help feeling some small measure of bitterness towards the City that supposedly works for me…how many people are suckered by the ‘calendar month clause’? Why are consumers not charged properly for monthly consumption, rather than purchases? It may be legal, but it still feels like I’ve been scammed.

I thought it might be useful to share this experience with Scenic South readers.  I don’t know how often it happens, but if it saves anyone else the hassle and expense…


Sean Bowerman