You can complain to the office of the Credit Ombud when you have a dispute with a credit bureau, debt counsellor or credit provider but not if the credit provider is a bank.
Consumer complaints relating to credit extended by a bank must be taken up with the Ombudsman for Banking Services, unless you are undergoing debt counselling (in which case the Credit Ombud will consider your complaint).
Last year, the Credit Ombud’s office finalised 212 percent more cases relating to non-bank credit than it did in the previous year, according to the ombud’s annual report for 2011.
Credit Ombud Manie van Schalkwyk attributes the increase to growing awareness of his office among consumers and the fact that 2011 was the second year in which the ombud’s non-bank credit department had been in operation.
The highest number of disputes finalised by the non-bank credit department fell into the “invalid case” category. In these cases, which constituted 24 percent of the disputes finalised, the ombud effectively ruled against the complainants.
Reana Steyn, head of the non-bank credit department, says a typical invalid case is when a consumer disputes a garnishee order on his or her salary. However, when the ombud’s office investigates, it finds that a legitimate credit agreement is in place and that the consumer has fallen behind with his or her repayments.
Consumers also forget they signed the “consent to judgment” documents and do not realise that they will not receive any further notice from the sheriff of the court that a debt judgment has been granted against them. The next step will be for the arrears to be deducted from their salary.
Steyn says consumers also complain to the Credit Ombud about the interest and fees they are charged – and their complaints are often more of a question than a dispute.
“Consumers want to know if what they are being charged is correct. They’ll ask us, ‘Can I be charged that?’ For example, they don’t realise that it is lawful to be charged up to 60-percent interest on a short-term loan.”
The second biggest category of disputes dealt with by the ombud’s non-bank credit department – 22 percent – fell into the “outside jurisdiction” category. Steyn says these cases should have been sent to another ombud or institution.
“Usually, these complaints come to us via our website, which doesn’t have a filtering process. In these cases, we refer the consumer to the right place,” Steyn says.
Last year, complaints relating to statements from credit providers made up a significant portion of the non-bank credit department’s case load. In 2010, they made up 22 percent of such disputes, and last year 17 percent, the ombud’s office says.
In these cases, consumers disputed the information on their statements or complained to the ombud about not receiving statements from their credit providers. Steyn says the disputes resolved in this category reflect a finding in favour of the consumer.
“Sometimes the consumer’s payment has been misallocated,” she says. In other words, the creditor did receive your money but it has somehow not been allocated to your account. “Or an incorrect reference number has been used.”
Steyn says it is important to check your statements regularly and carefully. If you find that you have been debited twice, or if your payments are not reflecting on your statements, contact your credit provider immediately and have your proof of payment on hand. If you are unable to resolve the dispute with your credit provider, the Credit Ombud’s office is available to help you free of charge.
The Credit Ombud is Manie van Schalkwyk.
Call centre: 0861 662 837
Telephone: 011 781 6431
Fax: 086 674 7414
Post: Post Suite 123, Private Bag X10015, Randburg, 2125