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SA can’t afford massive or unexpected water bills

SA can’t afford massive or unexpected water bills

Jun 19, 2015

One of the last things any consumer wants is to open their water account and discover they have a bill for many thousands of rands. While it is unlikely anyone could ever rack up such a massive bill in a single month, an incorrect meter reading or an undiscovered leak is all it takes to leave them hugely out of pocket. What is needed to avoid such an unpleasant surprise is some form of insurance that provides protection against such eventualities.

According to Larry Symington, CEO of MyWater, a company that manufactures a water meter designed to encourage good water use habits, disruptive technology and innovative solutions will save the day. South Africa has one of the most diverse economies in the world, but common to all is the need for water and the desire to live in a smart city. This presents the perfect platform for innovation, not just in terms of smart water meters, but also insurance.

“We have launched ‘Account Buster’, an initiative similar to the eThekwini water loss insurance model, but one which considers prevention to be better than cure. Instead of rewarding consumers financially for lost water, Account Buster covers them for legal arguments in the event of municipal billing misunderstanding. For just R96 per annum, consumers can be protected against unexpectedly large accounts, but only if they do their part.”

Symington explains that this new offering stands on the three separate legs of technology, communications and insurance cover. The company’s new generation utility water meter provides both memory and a viewing window for consumers to self-manage their actual usage, as they can constantly keep an eye on their consumption during the current month.

“Those who are insured are expected to visit the meter at least once a month and need to SMS the previous month’s closing balance to a short code we provide. In partnership with the municipality, the exact rate is returned to consumers as early warning of the amount they will be expected to pay when their invoice arrives. This allows them to budget with confidence for their water bills.”

“Because the SMS reading sent by the consumer effectively locks the billing amount, the cover we offer means that we are then prepared to make provision for a legal argument on the consumer’s behalf should the invoiced amount differ substantially from what was anticipated.

He adds that the benefits of this solution are not solely for the consumer either. He explains that the company also sends the meter readings received from consumers on to the municipality for free, eliminating the need to send meter readers out every month.

“This will also play a role in minimising billing misunderstandings, as it reduces the human element. Meter readers are, of course, only human and can easily mix numbers up – and the difference that, for example, an 18 versus an 81 can make to your account is substantial.”

According to Symington, consumers can obtain such protection through one of two methods. They can either opt for the MyWater insurance option and the company will assist them to request a meter upgrade from the municipality. Should the municipality refuse to upgrade the meter for any reason, consumers can still purchase the meter for R450 as a DIY installation, which can then be implemented in series with their existing meter. Such an implementation will also provide them with the insurance cover, protecting them from incorrect bills.

“Clearly, this solution demands that consumers be a little more proactive in looking after their water consumption, but the benefits are multiple. Not only are they protected from invoicing misunderstandings, but by being proactive they will find and thus be able to fix any leaks occurring on their property much earlier. This is beneficial to them, the municipality and the country as a whole, since water is a scarce resource and should not be wasted, even unintentionally.”

Symington suggests that, thanks to the effective meter readings the MyWater meters supply to the municipality coupled with the insurance provided to consumers, there will be an increasing amount of buy-in from both sides. This, he continues, dovetails nicely with government’s drive towards a future Smart City system.

“Enabling consumers to save money is critical if local government hopes to get citizens on board with the Smart City concept. This creates willing consumers which, when coupled with innovative technology and support from the private sector creates a definite win-win solution across the board. This in turn will pave the way for all towns across South Africa, irrespective of size, to be able to become smart cities in the near future,” he concludes.

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