How to enforce your rights

If your municipality does not provide free water or electricity services, or if you do not have adequate sanitation (for example, if you have to use the buses or pit latrines that do not offer privacy, protection or hygiene), demand that your local government provides free basic services for those in need:

  • Make your demands in a petition to municipal council, at your IDP forum, and your ward committee
  • Nominate and elect candidates who support free basic services

Seek legal advice – the failure to provide free basic service may infringe your constitutional right to equality and water
Use the Water Budget Monitoring Education Tool (at the back of this guide) to hold government to account for its water budgets and plans.

You have a right to fair treatment – it is illegal to cut-off your water or electricity without notice! Before your water or electricity service can be disconnected, you must receive notice of the municipality’s intention to disconnect your water supply, and be given a chance to respond. But if you have illegal electricity supply, government has the right to disconnect it without notice.

If you have an in-house water or electricity connection with a credit meter account (where you receive a bill every month directly from the municipality), the notice must be in writing, and it is usually at the bottom of your water and electricity bill. You must be given the chance to explain your circumstances and to make a plan to pay the arrears (s. 3(2)(b) of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act, (PAJA); s. 4(3) of the Water Services Act).

If you rent and do not receive a bill because the landlord pays the municipality for water and electricity, the municipality must still notify you of its intention to disconnect your water or electricity supply, in writing and posted in a place where you will see it, such as in the public area of your building. If you live in an informal settlement or rural area, the notice should also be placed somewhere public.

If you have a prepayment water or electricity meter, the notice is usually in the form of flashing numbers on the meter warning you about how little water or electricity is left. In this case, and only for water, if you fear you will run out of water and do not have money to purchase more credit, you need to go and talk to your local municipal service centre before the water runs out.

If you cannot afford to pay for water or electricity, you should tell your water service provider and make sure you are registered for free basic services if your municipality has an indigence register. If you cannot afford to pay for water, it is against the law to cut off your water, even if you owe money on your account (s. 4(3)(c) of the Water Services Act). It is not against the law to cut off your electricity supply, but you must be given notice.

If you rent your home and your landlord disconnects your water or electricity supply without a court order, this too is against the law! (S. 16(h)(A) of the Rental Housing Act). Notify your water or electricity service provider and ask for your water or electricity service to be turned back on. If necessary, make an urgent application to your Rental Housing Tribunal for an order to reconnect the water or electricity supply. You can also make an urgent application to court, by yourself or with the assistance of a legal organisation (such as those provided in the back of this guide).