What are Free Basic Services?

2000, the Cabinet announced government`s intention to roll out a free basic services programme, with specific focus on a basket of services such

Water and Electricity

Picture Source: wwf.panda.org

as water, energy (both grid and non-grid), sanitation and refuse-removal (solid waste).

The primary objective is to lighten the burden of poverty in poor households. Since 1994, the policy approach has been for government to fund the capital costs of new infrastructure services, while users cover operations and maintenance costs. But very often, the poor cannot afford to pay.

The FBS programme was a response to this problem, and sector departments came up with various sector policies aimed at setting uniform standards across all municipalities and other entities. These policies include: the free basic water strategy (FBW), free basic energy policies FBE/FBAE (grid and non-grid), free basic sanitation (FBSan) and free basic refuse removal (FBRR). A number of municipalities have extended subsidies to provide up to 100% discount on property rates and other charges imposed by the municipality, like free burial services to destitute families.

What are free basic services?

Free basic service is defined as the minimum amount of basic levels of services, provided on a day to day basis, sufficient to cover or cater for the basic needs of the poor households. Various sector departments have set minimum standards outlining basic amount of services or quantity to be supplied to the indigents with regards to water, energy, sanitation and refuse removal.

Funding for free basic services?

Free basic services are not, of course free to those who provide them – someone has to pay, namely:  1). National Government through fiscus/Equitable shares and 2). Local Municipalities through cross subsidies raised as revue by Municipalities themselves.

Who qualifies for FBS?

Only indigent households qualify for FBS and the programme is solely intended to assist them. Municipalities subject all applications to means tests to determine whether households applying meet the criteria set by their municipality to qualify for indigent status. There are different categories of subsidies as set out by the various indigent by-laws/policies of the municipalities. In some municipalities, households qualify for 100% subsidies while other qualify for less that 100% depending on the criteria set.

What is the Common criteria used by municipalities to identify indigents?

Municipalities have different dynamics and thus have a variety of methods to identify indigents. The following are the most commonly used methods:

  • Whether the applicant is a bonafide South African citizen, with valid identification document;
  • If applicant is not a SA citizen, do they have recognized refugee status, (proof to be provided);
  • Is the applicant residing in a dwelling (formal  and informal), (fbs is provided for households);
  • Is the combined monthly household’s income below the income poverty thresholds as set by the municipal indigent by-law;
  • Applicant to submit proof that they cannot afford to pay (UIF card, bank statements, proof of income, letter from employer confirming salary or wages);

NB. Child-headed households and households without access to FBS infrastructure are always regarded as indigents.

Where to register?

One again, different municipalities have various established municipal offices closer and further away from areas where indigent people stay. It is the responsibility of individual households to visit municipal offices to complete and lodge applications for subsidy/consideration.

What documentation is required when applying for indigent status?

The following documentation will be required in order to apply and process the application forms: Identity documents, Birth certificates, proof of residence, proof of income, letter of recommendation from recognized local structures or leaders, latest municipal accounts, sworn statements/affidavits or declaration from applicant, etc. And all such documents must be certified

Who provides free basic services?

It is the Constitutional obligation of Municipalities to provide free basic services, including in areas where there is no infrastructure to provide free basic services.

How do I access free basic services if my area has no infrastructure?

Various sector policies are in place to address the imbalance between areas where there is no infrastructure (rural/informal) and those with infrastructure (formal/urban). It is the responsibility of municipalities to provide alternative sources of services to meet the basic needs of communities, eg in case of energy, municipalities must provide sources like paraffin, solar gels or any other source deemed necessary and in case of water, elementary systems such as tanks, boreholes etc.

What is an indigent by-law?

An Indigent by-law is a tool used by municipalities to identify who the indigents are or simply sets out the criteria to be used to identify households, which due to their social or economic status, cannot afford to pay for their basic services.

How long will I stay on the indigent register?

Indigent registers of municipalities are reviewed from time to time, depending on the period chosen by each municipality in line with their indigent by-law. Some municipalities review their policies once a year, others every six months while others register their indigents throughout the year.

Are free basic services linked or aligned to other Government programmes?

Yes. FBS is linked to programmes like the MunicipaI Infrastructure Grant programme, aimed at providing specific capital finance for basic municipal infrastructure backlogs for poor households, micro enterprises and social institutions servicing the poor communities.

FBS is also part of the Social safety net and it is aligned to all other poverty alleviation programmes including the Community Work Programme, EPWP, Municipal LED programmes, feeding schemes, housing and social grants programmes, etc.


Summary of sector specific standards in line with their various free basic policies:

     Department Sector Policy Level of services/standards
Water Affairs FBW  6 kilolitres of water provided per  household per month
Energy FBE(grid)FBAE (non-grid).  50 KWH of electricity per household per  monthEnergy to the value of not less than R55-00 as a minimum to unelectrified indigents households and the figure must increase on an annual basis by inflation rate plus by 1.5%.DoE revises this figure in every 5-year cycle
Human Settlements FBSan Additional 3-4 kls  of water provided to households connected to waterborne SystemsUrine diversions, VIP toilets, Ablution systems
Environmental Affairs FBRR On-site appropriate and regularly supervised disposalsCommunity transfer to central collection pointsOrganized transfer to central collection points and /or kerbside collection (in high density settlements)Or a combination of methods above

Source: www.Cogta.gov.za


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