By Auren Freitas dos Santos
On 2 December 2021, the Community Schemes Ombud Service published important amendments to the Practice Directive on Dispute Resolution Process of 2019 aimed at increasing efficiency.
Below is a summary of the most important amendments which any party to a dispute resolution process should be aware of:
- The payment of the prescribed application fee of R50,00 per application has been suspended indefinitely. Accordingly, all disputes lodged after 2 December 2021, will be at no cost to the applicant.
- The payment of the adjudication fee of R100,00 has been waived for all adjudications. Accordingly, all adjudications that are yet to commence after 2 December 2021, will be conducted at no cost to the applicant.
- The notice period to be given to affected parties has been reduced from 14 days to 7 days. Accordingly, respondents will be required to file their written submissions in response to the application within 7 days.
- The notice period given to the applicant to inspect the written submissions and to provide any written response relating to the issues raised in the written submissions has been reduced from 10 days to 5 days.
- An extension of any of the aforementioned notice periods, which will only be considered in exceptional cases, has been reduced from 10 days to 5 days.
- The notice period to be given to parties for conciliation has been reduced from 14 days to 7 days.
- No face-to-face conciliations will be conducted, except where the parties may not have access to necessary technology to facilitate virtual hearings.
- Unless otherwise advised or requested and agreed between the parties, no face-to-face adjudications will be conducted. Accordingly, adjudications will be conducted based on the papers filed by the parties. The adjudicator will request for further final submissions or written arguments to be filed by either party within 5 (five) working days, before an adjudicator considers the matter and publishes the adjudication order.
- The timeframe within which to dispose of disputes shall be 90 days calculated as follows – 45 days for a conciliation and 45 days for an adjudication.
- A process has been introduced to allow certain matters to be dealt with on an urgent basis. If a matter is determined to be one of urgency, the notices to the respective parties will be issued requiring responses within 24 hours. Once the applicant has inspected the respondent’s written submissions and provided any written response thereto, the adjudicator will issue an order within 48 hours. Urgency shall be determined on the basis of imminent harm, loss of life, damage or loss that may occur if the dispute is not handled on an urgent basis.
In my experience the CSOS has generally failed to uphold their commitment to resolve disputes swiftly, efficiently and in a fair manner, with some disputes taking more than 2 years to reach finality. This poor service delivery has severely prejudiced parties in the dispute resolution process and my hope is that these amendments will lead to a much needed improvement in the performance of the CSOS.
Specialist Community Scheme Attorney (LLB, LLM), Auren Freitas dos Santos, is a Director of The Advisory, a boutique consultancy specialising exclusively in community schemes law.
Contact him at www.theadvisory.co.za or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you require any assistance with levy disputes within your sectional title scheme.