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e-tag billing shock

The SA National Roads Agency Ltd (Sanral) not only wants your money – it also wants access to all your bank details and financial accounts.

The Department of Transport postponed e-tolling on Gauteng’s freeways on Friday, weeks before the system was due to go live next month. This is the second time the department has suspended the multibillion-rand project.

Photo: Mujahid Safodien. Credit: INLSA

Despite this, Sanral has continued its advertising campaign, encouraging motorists to register for e-tags. But the registration of the e-tags may be illegal in terms of the Consumer Protection Act.

This is according to various organisations who have analysed the terms and conditions of e-tag accounts.

At the centre of their concerns is clause 33 of Sanral’s terms and conditions, which states that: “The user hereby irrevocably authorises the Agency or its duly authorised agent to obtain from any institution where the user may have an account, or from any credit bureau, any information concerning the user. This clause constitutes consent and an instruction to each such institution to disclose such information to the Agency or its agent.”

Dr Cliff Johnston, from the SA National Consumer Union (Sancu), said this goes against the Financial Services Act, which states that an institution may not request more information than is needed.

“So they may see if you have been blacklisted. But what if you have? Will that mean you won’t be able to register? Will you not be able to use the road then? How will Sanral deal with those cases?” Johnston asked.

Sancu intended to complain about the terms and conditions to the National Consumer Tribunal before the suspension. It is now planning to approach Sanral’s new board to point out the illegalities in the conditions.

Another contentious term, said Johnston, was that “Sanral’s information is correct unless you can prove otherwise. So if someone fraudulently copies your licence plate, Sanral will remove money from your account. How are you going to prove it wasn’t your car? This is illegal in terms of the Consumer Protection Act.”

Another controversial term was that you must supply Sanral with your bank account details, giving it access to debit money from the account “once the user’s e-toll account balance goes below the user’s predefined top-up threshold level”.

Johnston said Sancu was initially encouraging people to register for an e-toll account, but only on the prepaid option, without giving banking details.

“But we soon realised Sanral would not register you without your bank details.

“What if you are poor and don’t have a bank account? Does that mean you won’t be allowed to drive on the roads?”

For road users who do not register for an e-tag, Sanral’s terms are that motorists must pay for the toll within seven days or they will be punished. But Johnston said this was impossible as it would take far longer for the notice to be posted to you and payment made.

The DA has taken its concerns one step further by sending a complaint of infringements by Sanral to the National Consumer Tribunal in terms of the Consumer Protection Act

: that users have to give access to their bank accounts for unknown amounts; there is a high possibility of fraud as 10 percent of all licence plates are cloned or fraudulent; there is no clarity on how disputed amounts will be refunded; there are undisclosed administration fees (R5 for posted statements and 20c for each sms); identification by e-tag as opposed to number plate is unclear; and certain road users (minibus taxis and buses) are exempted, leading to unfair discrimination.

Sanral had not responded to queries at the time of going to print.

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