Debt collection: know your rights

2014-08-06 00:00

NICKY Campbell, consumer lawyer and author of the DIY Credit Repair Toolkit, says harassment is very common in the debt collection industry.

Such harassment often leads to the consumer signing an acknowledgement of debt or making some sort of payment towards the account effectively reviving his or her liability for the debt.

Campbell uses as an example a woman who recently received a call from debt collectors, JM Attorney, stating that she owed R6 282 on a gym contract dating back to 2001.

“I don’t have gym contracts, but back in the 90’s there was a recreation club that had opened and I recall going once or twice. l fell ill and provided a medical report, since then I have not signed up for any gym contracts. I have been very responsible as a consumer and if I had to pay anything, then it would have been the case but no one ever contacted me,” said Campbell’s client, who was told by the attorneys that if she did not pay up she would be blacklisted.

“I have never had a bad record or been blacklisted before …part of me wants to just pay the money because I feel intimidated and scared. But I also know I have not done anything wrong and do not want to see my name blacklisted for something that I am not at fault for.”

Campbell said the tactic of threatening someone with blacklisting is not uncommon and people often feel harassed into settling the debt, but it is important to first find out exactly what your rights are.

Ask for proof

Firstly, a debt collector has to provide you with proof of the invoice and outstanding amount.

Campbell has come across many situations where consumers are told that they owe money on outstanding amounts from contracts they do not even remember signing.

Has the debt expired?

Campbell says in this particular case the account is likely to have prescribed as JM Attorneys advised the client that they received the account in 2001.

The prescription of debt means basically that the debt has expired and the creditor can no longer claim the amount.

If the debtor has not signed acknowledgment of debt, there has been no payment for three years and there is no judgment then the account is said to have “prescribed” and the debtor is not legally obliged to repay the account.

Campbell adds that amendments have been made to the National Credit Act that deal specifically with debt that has prescribed. She says under the new rules, a creditor may not sell a debt that has been cancelled by prescription and neither the creditor nor debt collector may continue with the collection of debt or re-activate the debt if it has prescribed, even if the customer is not aware that it has prescribed.

Keep an eye on your credit record.

There is no obligation on the credit bureau to immediately advise the consumer of any consumer credit information that is placed on the consumer’s credit report, says Campbell.

However, there is an obligation on the person who submits adverse information to the credit bureau to advise the consumer prior to the submission of adverse information concerning that consumer.

This notification must be given to the consumer at least 20 business days prior to the information being submitted (Regulation 19(4)).

You have the opportunity to dispute this by sending a letter to the credit bureau. This information is all detailed in Toolkit available from info@salawcentre.org.za or tel: 011 367 0695

@mayaonmoney

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