Prepaid Meters In South Africa: How Do They Work?
What to do when you find out you have become the new owner of a property with a prepaid meter?
So, you’re a first-time home buyer, or buying a unit in a sectional title residential complex for the first time.
Your offer has been accepted and you are enjoying the euphoric rush that comes with this momentous moment!
But while you are celebrating and beginning to tackle the paperwork regarding your home loans and rates accounts, something is bothering you…
The home has a prepaid electricity metering system.
Euh, and what do you do now?
How does it work? How do you get the account in your name? As of when do you take over the payments? Is it easier or more complicated than working directly with Eskom or City Power?
If you have never encountered the inner workings of a prepaid system, these questions can be stressful, especially considering the worst case scenario:
Will I be left in the dark?
First of all, relax!
Take a deep breath and know that there’s absolutely NOTHING you need to be stressed out about!
Many homeowners with prepaid meters much prefer the system, for a variety of reasons.
Reasons why a prepaid meter is preferable
- These systems provide more control over the amount of electricity consumed, given the individual user can monitor his bill more closely
- They are known to be accurate and tamper-proof – no under-charging or over-charging
- Some systems make use of SMS reminders when the balance is low and topping up via cell phone – what could be easier?
- Some systems have graphs and other usage statistics available via logging into the system online
- Most metering companies have great support staff and accommodating terms to make sure you are never left in the dark
- Some systems are so simple, they never require any physical interaction with your meter box!
So, with all these advantages one can see that, in fact, a prepaid meter is not the enemy but actually an asset.
If you were still holding your breath, let’s hope reading this part already made you less nervous! (and please start breathing again)
Now you know why it’s preferable to use a prepaid meter, but how does it actually work?
How does a prepaid meter work
Most often, landlords or body corporates approach the metering company to have prepaid meters installed as a means of tracking tenants’ or individual owners’ electricity usage accurately, affordably and securely.
How much will you pay?
Generally speaking, and depending on which company you are dealing with, you will pay your local council kWh rate.
I get all those advantages with a prepaid meter and I pay the same as everyone else?
How does the metering company make their money?
Well, the company charges a management fee that reflects in your levies – usually less than 10% of your usage.
There may also be a small transaction fee each time you top up – usually under R10.
Most homeowners agree that this is a small price to pay for the accuracy and convenience of the metering system.
And most would say that they prefer dealing with a private company with great turnaround time in the event of an issue, rather than compete with the thousands of homes awaiting support directly from the parastatal providers!
Still stressed out by the “how” questions of actually setting up a prepaid meter account?
So was I at first, but I found it to be a very straightforward process!
Let me further demystify the initial steps for you.
There are many companies providing this service.
The City of Johannesburg is encouraging users to make the switch to prepaid as well, so you may be dealing with them directly.
Or, as is very common, there may be a third-party or private metering company.
Accordingly, these steps may vary, but the following will give you a good idea of what the process looks like, if you are dealing with a third-party provider.
The Big Question: What to do to get started on your prepaid metering service?!
Step #1 – Fill out an application
Getting started is as easy as submitting a one-page form to the metering company.
This includes obvious information like your name and the house / unit number, the date of occupation of your new home, and banking details.
This information will line up with the information about the house or complex on the metering company’s system.
The beauty of it is that as you move in and open an account, the previous owner’s account is closed.
A steady, unbroken supply of electricity to the house is ensured.
So, you can almost certainly rest assured you won’t be moving in your furniture after work on the evening of the last day of the month by candlelight!
Except during times of load shedding of course – this is still Johannesburg!
You can get the application forms online on the metering company’s web page.
If you’re not sure about which company your meter is linked to, check with the Managing Agent of the complex, your real estate agent, or the previous owner for more information.
Step #2 – Submit the application with required documents
Usually, the company requires a copy of your ID and possibly some kind of financial verification such as a bank statement.
By now you may be making copies of all these documents for the home loan process, so check on the application for the list of documents so you can get copies made for your metering account at the same time, and avoid doing the work twice.
Step #3 – Pay a deposit towards your account
You will normally be required to pay a refundable deposit of a few hundred Rand, plus an initial amount of usable credits, into your electricity account, in order to activate the account. Nobody likes this kind of a grudge payment, but actually, this can work in your favour.
Let me show you how.
Let’s say you get your “low balance” warning SMS to your phone on Wednesday.
But it’s been a busy week!
So, you don’t get to topping up your balance.
On Thursday and Friday, you get similar notifications, but again it slips your mind to top up.
On Saturday, you realize your credits are about to run out!
And you know that the company’s business hours are Monday to Friday only!
Don’t fear – most companies will use your deposit as credit to get you through the weekend.
This means that these companies don’t do disconnections outside of business hours, which is great for your peace of mind.
When you top up, the deposit amount is replenished.
(By the way, the company does have technicians on call after hours as well.)
And of course, this deposit will be refunded to you when you move out.
Step #4 – Begin enjoying your new home, complete with electricity
Away you go!
Your day-to-day usage will gradually use up that initial amount you deposited.
Most metering systems will send you an SMS when your prepaid balance reaches a low balance limit, such as R100.
You can then do your top ups via EFT or via your cell phone, using a simple USSD menu.
Mostly, prepaid metering companies try to keep everything secure and straightforward so you can focus on what’s important, like where to position your television, rather than whether it will work when you turn it on.
So, as you plan your housewarming party, don’t let the move to a prepaid metering system be a stress!
As always, speak to your real estate agent if you have any queries – any agent worth his salt will point you in the right direction on these issues!
Other Prepaid Meter Articles:
- Choosing The Prepaid Meter Device That Is Right For You
- Prepayment Electricity FAQ
- Smart Meter (AMI) vs. STS Meter
- What Electricity Meter To Choose
— Xavier De Buck (@XavierDeBuck) August 17, 2016
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About the author: The above article “Prepaid Meters In South Africa: How Do They Work?” was written by Xavier De Buck, your top-producing Johannesburg real estate agent. Xavier has been nationally recognized and awarded for providing service excellence, exceptional property sales, whilst exhibiting the highest level of professionalism. With over 15 years combined experience as a real estate agent and real estate investor, if you’re thinking of buying or selling a home in Johannesburg, Xavier would love to share his property knowledge and expertise.
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