The City of Joburg (CoJ) launched its system for sending out municipal bills using Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) during September 2013, raising concerns among some residents.
One concern is that to opt-out of receiving your municipal bill by MMS, residents have to either phone the call centre or respond by SMS to a premium-rated number.
In a press statement issued earlier in 2013, the CoJ defended their charging of customers to opt-out by arguing that the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) does not apply to its MMS statements.
“The [CPA] advises that customers should be afforded the opportunity to opt out of a marketing correspondence at a minimum set cost,” the CoJ said. “Neither the initial MMS notification sent, nor the MMS statements are considered marketing correspondence,” it argued.
Another concern was raised by the press statement, which said that residents will only receive e-mailed or postal statements quarterly. Joburg’s call centre also told some residents that opting out of MMS statements would not increase the frequency of printed or e-mailed statements.
This has raised questions around the accessibility of statements for those unable to receive or read MMS messages.
However, a spokesperson for the municipality said that customers that opt out of receiving their bills by MMS will still receive their statements by post or e-mail on a monthly basis.
The spokesperson noted that due to the downtime of the CoJ’s e-Statements system, new customers were not able to sign up for e-mailed statements.
CoJ took its e-Statements system offline in August 2013 when it emerged that it was exposing the private information to anyone on the Internet with the correct URL.
According to the spokesperson, their IT team was busy ensuring the security of the system before the municipality would announce a date to relaunch it.
He added that even though the web-based e-Statement viewing system was offline, residents who had opted for e-mail statements before the security flaw was exposed were still receiving their statements by e-mail.
Over concerns that MMS statements may not be suitable as proof of address for FICA or RICA purposes, the spokesperson pointed out that they do still send out paper or e-mail statements every 3 months.
These quarterly statements contain a summary of the previous 3 months’ municipal bills, the spokesperson said.
He added that customers could also always visit a municipal office and request a print-out of their statement.
Asked whether the City of Joburg intends to phase out paper or e-mailed statements in favour of MMS, the spokesperson said that the intention is not to phase it out.
He said that MMS statements were just part of their green initiative, and that they do encourage residents to consider electronic options to replace their paper-based statements.