What is debt off-set?
Debt off-set is the practice whereby a bank deducts monies from a consumer's accounts to settle their credit arrears with the bank in question. Court action is currently being taken against Standard Bank in regards to this practice.
Is it legal?
At the moment, the practice of debt off-set falls in a bit of a legal grey area. According to the National Credit Act (NCA), 'all credit providers should have equal opportunity to receive payments and therefore are required to make use of the standard or preferential debit order payments processes.' This means that a bank cannot deduct their dues first, simply because they have legal access to it.
However, in instances where a consumer has signed documentation to the effect that the bank is allowed to do so, which is often the case, there is very little that can be done. The National Credit Regulator (NCR) is pushing for legislation that underwrites the debit order mechanism, i.e. that payments are offset on the dates and in the order that the consumer originally specified. This means that they will be prepared and have notice of each deduction.
How to safeguard yourself against debt off-set
Here are a few ways in which you can safeguard your income against unexpected debt off-set:
Ensure that your lender is a different credit provider to the one you bank with. In this case, payments can only be collected by means of authorised debit order. Never hide from creditors or take on additional debt to pay off existing lenders. If you cannot cover your monthly payments, negotiate with your creditors. If you cannot come to terms with your creditors, get in touch with a reputable debt review agency who will assist you by doing it on your behalf. The NCA is in place to safeguard South African consumers, so take advantage of that fact.
Would you like to know more about debt off-set and how to safeguard yourself against unlawful deductions from your account? Get in touch with Libertine Consultants representative and keep your eye on the blog in coming weeks and months for more helpful debt management advice.