My COJ Query has been Closed (but not resolved) !?&*%! Now What?

2022, Articles, City of Johannesburg, News, Property Law

Article by Chantelle Gladwin-Wood (Partner) and Erin Gradidge (Candidate Attorney)
19 December 2022

INTRODUCTION

At the Schindlers Municipal Law Department we deal with the unlawful closure of City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality (“COJ”) queries on a daily basis. Our clients often receive no communication once a query reference number has been provided, but then out of the blue, the COJ will close the query or advise that the query has been resolved – when it very patently has not been resolved and the problem complained of remains unsolved. This article canvasses several practical issues in relation to same.

WHEN ARE QUERIES CLOSED?

Legally speaking, a query or complaint (or dispute) is only meant to be “closed” or regarded as “closed” by any municipality when it has been resolved. This means that the municipality has investigated it, notified the customer of the outcome of the query, and taken any necessary action following the outcome of the investigation. Note that not all queries are resolved in the customer’s favour!

WHEN ARE QUERIES UNLAWFULLY CLOSED?

This happens whenever a query, complaint or dispute is “closed” or regarded as “closed” by any municipality before proper investigation has been done and an outcome has been reached. It is normally required in law that the customer be notified of the outcome of the query, but this is not the case with every municipality.

WAYS THAT THE COJ CLOSES QUERIES

  1. Sometimes the person who logged the query (or their representatives) will be advised that a query is closed by the COJResolvedQuery@joburg.org.za email, or some other no-reply email (to which one can’t reply to argue your case).
  2. Other times a customer might be informed telephonically that the query has been closed when a call is made by the customer to the call centre to follow up on the resolution of the query.
  3. It also sometimes happens that a customer finds out that their query has been closed when they are disconnected, or they receive a pre-termination letter warning that they will be disconnected.

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR QUERY IS UNLAWFULLY CLOSED (WITHOUT RESOLUTION)

A follow up with the City’s call centre can be made to try and dispute the unlawful closure of the query whilst the problem remains unresolved. We refer to this as “refreshing” the query as it is “reinstated” under the same reference number. Alternatively, you can call the City’s call centre and log your query again and obtain a new reference number or use the City’s regional email query centres to log a new query over email.

WHY DO WE CARE ABOUT QUERIES BEING UNLAWFULLY CLOSED?

Firstly, your query won’t be attended to if it is no longer on the City’s systems because it reflects as closed. Secondly, you aren’t protected in law from the City taking credit control action (disconnection or another form of debt collection action) against you, if you do not have a valid, unresolved, revenue related query pending in relation to all amounts on your account. This means that you could be disconnected, or a summons issued against you in relation to an amount that you dispute, if your query (in terms of which an amount is disputed) has been unlawfully closed before it has been investigated/resolved.

RECOMMENDATION REGARDING “REFRESHING” OF QUERIES

Although it is not public knowledge or official policy, it is often the case that queries are closed by municipalities 30 days after they are logged, whether they are resolved or not. Regardless of whether you have one or a million query reference numbers, it is recommended that you call the City’s call centre every 30 days to “refresh” the query and follow up on the outcome before the query is closed. If your query is closed before it has been resolved, log a new one.

APPEALING THE OUTCOME OF A QUERY NOT RESOLVED TO THE CUSTOMER’S SATISFACTION

Should you not be happy with the outcome as communicated by the municipality in terms of any query/complaint laid, you can follow the next step in the City of Johannesburg’s Credit Control and Debt Collection Policy, which is to lodge a written complaint in the form of a letter of demand after 30 days from logging your query (section 16.2). This letter of demand will set out your query again and demand that the City resolve your query accordingly. The City will then be provided with 60 days after serving the written complaint or 90 days from when the query was logged to respond to the letter before you can send a letter of appeal to appeal the decision/outcome or failure to make a decision/outcome to your satisfaction (section 16.5 of the Credit Control and Debt Collection Policy). This process is definitely cheaper to follow than going straight to court!

CONCLUSION

When logging a query, ensure that you receive a query reference number and that you make reference to the specific amount that you dispute. You must continue to make payment of all undisputed amounts, and if you are disputing a charge that is a continuous monthly charge (like rates, water or electricity) you need to pay an estimated amount in the place of the disputed amount. Remember to continue to follow up to ensure that your query is not unlawfully prematurely closed by the City without being resolved to your satisfaction, or else you might face disconnection threats (or disconnection itself) over the holidays.

Erin Gradidge
Candidate Attorney
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