R699ers head to court for car justiceComment on this story
Durban - His name is Johannes Ignatius Bartosch, and he’s the R699 man.
He’s been chosen by attorney Duncan Heuer of Port Elizabeth law firm Pieterse, Cary, Finlaison Inc, as the person to represent all Satinsky clients in a notice of motion the firm’s legal counsel will take to the Port Elizabeth High Court on Tuesday to have a class action brought against Satinsky and the banks.
Heuer said he would ask the court to certify other affected Satinsky clients around the country as a class, meaning that any ruling could apply to all of them, should they choose it to.
The most pressing application would be for an interdict to stop the banks from collecting car payments from affected clients via debit order.
But that won’t happen in time to affect this month’s debit orders, due to be processed from later this week.
The legal team’s ultimate aim is to ask that all credit agreements made under the R699 scheme be declared void, and that the vehicles be returned to the banks.
The National Credit Act states that a credit agreement is reckless if the bank either failed to assess a consumer’s financial position, or approved a credit application “despite the fact that the preponderance of information available to the credit provider indicated that the consumer did not generally understand the risks, costs or obligations of the agreement”, or despite the fact that entering into it would make the consumer over-indebted.
If a credit agreement is deemed reckless, a court may set aside “all or part of the consumer’s rights and obligations under that agreement”.
Bartosch, a Port Elizabeth resident, bought his Tata Indica from Satinsky in November 2013.
It was financed by Absa on a no-deposit deal, over six years, with a monthly instalment of R2500.
A contract worker with a motor manufacturer, he travels 70km a day to and from work, which made the Satinsky deal – the higher the mileage the bigger the advertising fee – seem ideal.
But the monthly advertising fee he was paid – initially R1400 – dropped to R570 in March, despite the fact that he continued to provide proof of his high mileage.
And then in July, he was paid nothing.
Like so many Satinsky clients, he says he cannot afford the repayment without the “subsidy” in the form of the advertising fee, which brings into question the process the participating banks followed when assessing and approving the credit applications, provided by Satinsky, in terms of affordability.
All three banks insist that when assessing the affordability of applicants, they did not rely on the proposed advertising fee which they would be paid in terms of separate contracts they signed with what Satinsky claimed was a separate Hong Kong-based company called Blue Lakes Trading and Promotions.
Many of those affected have said that the living expenses totals declared on their bank credit application forms are far less than what they revealed to Satinsky employees during the application process.
None of them had direct dealings with the financing banks – Satinsky handled the applications on their behalf.
Hauer said the class action would also determine exactly how many people were currently paying off these “New car from R699 per month” cars, to Nedbank’s MFC, Absa Bank or Standard Bank.
Estimates vary widely. Satinsky chief executive Albert Venter siad on 4 July 4 they numbered just 7000 at the time, but consumer activist Simon Lapping says he has been told by an impeccable source that a total of 29 000 cars were sold on the scheme in the past six years, which is the length of the financed period.
“Some may have paid off the balance owing in the intervening years, so the figure currently could be more like 24 000,” Lapping said.
Most have gross salaries of between R6000 and R12 000 a month.
What is clear, from the dozens of e-mails I’ve received, and the posts on the Facebook group “I’ve been done in by ‘Drive a new car from R699 per month’”, is that many are now financially desperate.
Many speak of battling to afford food and one woman has taken to sleeping in her office overnight to save on petrol.
The banks are offering to lower their monthly instalments by either adding two years to the term of their loans, making them eight years in total, or by restructuring the agreement to include a “balloon” payment.
But with both options having enormous interest cost implications, and possibly adverse credit bureau listings, many say the banks’ offers are self-serving and don’t represent real help. Plus, if they accept a restructuring of their agreements, they could well be “disqualified” from joining the Port Elizabeth high court class action.
“It’s a valid concern.”
“They are going to have to make a tough choice. The court action could take months to reach a conclusion.”
And in the meantime, those car repayment debit orders are going to keep coming off their bank accounts.
It will cost affected Satinsky clients nothing to be part of the class action – Hauer’s firm is taking on the case on a contingency basis – and they can choose not to be bound by any court decision.
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SHE’S GOT PROOF OF DETAILS
as the R699 saga unravels, many of those affected are asking their banks for copies of their credit applications, and scrutinising the income and expenses figures.
And what they’re claiming is that the rand value which appears next to “monthly living expenses” is far less than what they declared. In some cases, it was half or even two thirds of their actual expenses total.
In other words, it is alleged that Satinsky drastically reduced their living expenses in order to mislead the banks into thinking they could afford the monthly car instalment.
The problem is, since 2011, Satinsky got that information from applicants over the phone. So the applicants have no proof. But “Dominique” of Midrand – she has asked that I not reveal her surname – applied for the Satinsky deal back in January 2011, when Satinsky required applicants to submit such information via e-mail.
She sent it to Just Cars Africa (a division of Satinsky) on 21 January 2011.
And this is what she stated on the company’s form:
Nett take-home pay R9 106.
Expenditure: bond R2 000, rates, water electricity R150; groceries and clothing R1 000; telephony R250; fuel and maintenance R1 500; other R787.
Total expenditure: R5 687.
Credit repayments added a further R520, bringing her total expenses for the month to R6 207.
Compare that to what is declared on the Absa credit application form:
Nett income: R9 078 (more or less the same), total living expenses R1 540; total debt repayments R1 600 – bringing her total expenditure to R3 140, about half of her actual expenditure.
After paying her bills and her debts, she only had a surplus of R2900 a month – less than her approved instalment on her Satinsky Renault Sandero which is R3 100. So clearly someone misrepresented her declaration; an allegation which many other Satinsky clients have made, but without solid proof.
Dominique’s signature appears on that Absa form, but she says she never signed it, saying her signature must have been scanned and pasted on that bank form.
In an e-mail to Absa, I asked why a declaration of living expenses of just R1 540 failed to raise a red flag.
Absa responded: “We unfortunately do not receive the documentation that the client submits to the dealership and therefore could not pick up the differences in the expenses declared by the client.
“However, it is clear that the expenses provided to Satinsky compared with those presented to the bank, differ. Therefore, we have forwarded this specific case to our fraud and forensics division for investigation.”
But the bank insisted that Dominique did, in fact, sign the bank’s credit application form, with the reduced “wrong” living expenses total on it, in several places.
“The signature on the documents are in black ink and not scanned and pasted as alleged,” Absa said.
The National Credit Regulator said last week it intended to investigate whether or not Satinsky vehicle owners were granted credit in accordance with the National Credit Act.
Meanwhile, Satinsky group chief executive Albert Venter is refusing to answer further media queries.
BANKS DON’T HAVE SATINSKY DEAL
I’ve heard from many R699-ers who bought their cars in the past three months – in other words since the scheme began to implode, and advertising fees were slashed.
So I asked all three banks last week on what date they approved their last Satinsky vehicle finance deal, bearing in mind that Satinsky started reducing fee payments, drastically, in March and stopped payments altogether on 1 July .
Only Standard Bank responded: 7 July – a week after the news of the advertising scheme’s collapse. Neither Nedbank nor Absa answered.
Standard Bank said: “We would not have known about Satinsky not paying commissions to the customers as this did not affect our lending decisions based on the fact that we did not take the anticipated commissions into account nor were we aware of any contracts that the customers entered into with the Satinsky Group.”
Yes, but it would have affected their ability to pay their instalments.