Stellenbosch University’s Law Clinic wants the high court to rule on allowable debt collection fees
IT’S ESTIMATED more than R1 billion rand has been illegally over-deducted from thousands of distressed debtors by unscrupulous credit providers.
On Wednesday, Stellenbosch Law Clinic filed an application in the Western Cape High Court, seeking judicial intervention on the manner in which debt is collected. It believes debt collection needs to be regulated and that costs must be capped.
The clinic is joined by Summit Financial Partners in representing 10 of their clients. All the major role players in the credit industry are involved, with 49 respondents, including all the major banks, the lending institutions, the ministers of Justice and Trade and Industry, and the National Credit Regulator.
Stephan van der Merwe, senior attorney at the university’s Law Clinic, says there’s widespread abuse in the industry.
“We have a lot of situations where people have been garnished with emolument attachment orders against their salaries. When you sit down and look at it you find amounts in excess of five, six, seven times the principal debt and they’re expected to continue making payments on it,” he says.
In one case, a client was granted an initial loan of R600, but had paid back more than R5 000 – about eight times the initial loan amount. In another, a farm labourer, earning R2 000 a month, has R970 garnished from his monthly salary. Back in 2011, he was given a loan of R16 000 and has repaid in excess of R31 500 – yet the creditor alleges he owes R37 000.
Van der Merwe says the reason they get away with it is because there are no rules that the costs levied against the debtor are taxed.
“What you have is the creditors going to their attorneys or their collection agents and telling them to collect on the debt but the charges are borne by the debtor.
“This is why the debtors end up paying these astronomical amounts for small loans, because the attorney and collection agency fees are dumped on them.”