The Credit Ombud brings hope to consumers and credit providers
When we think of Spring, we think of new beginnings and hope. Spring is the phoenix of the 4 seasons. The season that brings back to life that which was dead or dormant. The flowers start to bloom again, the birds get chirpier, the sun gets brighter and warmer.
The Credit Ombud brings a glimmer of hope and new beginnings for consumers who may have exhausted all avenues trying to resolve their credit matters with credit providers. What the Credit Ombud does is to ensure that all disputes that come through our desks are dealt with fairly. When a consumer finds themselves at a stalemate with the credit provider, they may often feel powerless and think that there is no way that they could possibly get a fair resolution to their query. But not all hope is gone because the consumer may approach the Credit Ombud with their query so that it may be investigated fairly, independently, and honestly. We are an office that acts upon its values, which are:
We will act in the best interest of all parties, taking both sides into consideration and considering the merits of each case carefully.
We will not take sides and will remain impartial at all times. No individual or organization will be in a position to unduly influence us.
We will openly deal with any issue brought before us, asking the relevant questions, and communicating clearly and transparently.
Take for instance Mr. Nkuna* who by the time he lodged his complaint with our office, was at his wit’s end as he had been trying to resolve his matter with the credit provider but was taken from pillar to post and received no assistance. He had an account with the credit provider for more than 15 years and in all those years this was the first time he encountered an issue with them. And despite his countless efforts to resolve the matter, it seemed as though his cries were falling on deaf ears until he came knocking on our doors asking for assistance. His complaint was that now that the account had been sold to another entity, there was a miscalculation on his account and the balance was incorrect. The Credit Ombud then did an extensive investigation where continuous communication took place with us and the credit provider and the consumer. We found that due to the account being in arrears, the terms of the agreement changed to an extended payment plan, which the consumer was made aware of. The credit provider further made available to us the statement of account which was inclusive of all transactions from the time prior to the account being bought over until after the migration happened. The consumer made further payments, paying off the arrears and the total balance, and a refund was due to the consumer. After the intervention of the Credit Ombud, both parties were happy with the outcome and although at first the consumer was threatening to close the account because of this dispute, he opted to continue with his relationship with the credit provider.
This is the reason why we encourage consumers to check their statement of accounts on a regular basis. There are certain things which the credit provider might miss or at times there may be a miscommunication between the two parties.
With the intervention of the Credit Ombud, it does not end with investigating only but we take each opportunity as a teachable moment, leaving the consumer with more knowledge of their rights and most importantly their responsibilities too. We had a case lodged by Ms Langeveldt* where her dispute was that 3 accounts that had prescribed were listed on her credit report. She had lodged her dispute with the credit bureaux and was not satisfied with the outcome from the credit bureaux and therefore referred her complaint to our office. She requested that these accounts be removed from her credit report. Let us not forget that according to the Prescription Act 68 of 1969, a debt is prescribed if during the past three years the consumer did not admit to owing on the debt, either verbally or in writing; they had not made payment towards the outstanding amount and summons was not issued and served on them. We contacted the credit provider and requested that they provide us with relevant information to prove whether the allegations were valid or not. Upon our investigation we found that the consumer had purchased goods with the credit provider on 3 separate occasions and furthermore agreed to combine the three instalments into one agreement and pay one instalment instead of three. The last payment for all three accounts was made within the three-year period, proving that the debts had not prescribed therefore the information could not be removed from the consumers credit report.
Consumers need to make a note of changes that happen with their accounts, where a credit agreement has been adjusted or changed, the consumer should request for all this information in writing and keep a record of it.
We also investigated a fraud case for a consumer. Mr Moloi* had been impersonated by a fraudster. This happened during a loan application which he made but did not go ahead with. He only realised this when the credit provider started calling him demanding payment on a loan that he had allegedly taken with them. Mr Moloi informed them that he had never signed any such agreement with the credit provider. He went to the SAPS to open a case of fraud and lodged his dispute with the credit provider, and he sent all documents which they requested from him for them to do their investigation. The documents requested included an affidavit and bank statements. Once his complaint was lodged with the credit provider, he did not receive any feedback. He was, however, sent a letter of demand and the phone calls demanding payment ensued. Mr Moloi approached our office and requested that we assist him to resolve this matter, which we did. We sent the complaint to the credit provider, requesting that they provide us relevant documentation that would prove whether the consumer entered into the credit agreement with them or not. Our office requested copies of the original contract and statements of account. After the credit provider completed their internal investigation, they came back to us confirming that the account was indeed opened fraudulently. This gave the consumer the relief for which he was looking because he had thought that he had been negatively impacted with adverse information reflecting on his credit report. The credit provider assured the consumer that the matter had been resolved and account was closed. The telephone calls demanding payment also ceased.
All the above consumers acted swiftly and where a case was not resolved in their favour, they were provided with credible evidence based on an investigation been done by our office. We were their hope in situations which they may have deemed hopeless as they were not getting the assistance which they required from the credit provider or credit bureau.
We are reminding consumers and urging them not to keep quiet when they find themselves in credit disputes. Knowing that there is an office that offers their services for free to consumers who may have non-bank credit agreement and credit bureau information disputes, is a comfort.
*The names used have been changed to protect the privacy of the consumers.