Check your credit status: Protect your rights

Know your credit status!  You can do so for NO FEE once a year.

This is one small step that South African consumers can take and make a giant leap into stamping their consumer rights. The call comes as multitudes across the globe prepare to mark the World Consumer Rights Day on the 15th of March 2014. The call is timely in coming on the eve of the ‘credit information amnesty’ that is due to kick in at the beginning April in South Africa.

In building towards this day the National Credit Regulator (NCR) launched at the beginning of March a campaign titled: Know your credit status. This is befitting given the fact that the most devastating consumer rights trampling happens around financial services.

Lesiba Mashapa, Company Secretary at the NCR, said “Every person who has an account in the country with a credit or service provider, who makes use of credit bureau services, will find the information about their account recorded with a credit bureau irrespective of whether that person pays their account regularly or not.”

This means that credit bureaus hold both positive (where consumers are paying their accounts well) and negative information (where a consumer has fallen behind or defaulted on payments).”

“The purpose of listing the information collectively at the credit bureaus is to create a comprehensive view of the consumer for both prospective and existing credit and service providers to assist them in the evaluation of credit or account applications and also to assist in the management of their relationship with their customers”, said Mashapa.

Statistics show that out of 20.29 million credit active consumers, only 164,437 credit reports were issued to consumers at their request during the quarter ended September 2013. It further states that 77.0% (126,591) were issued without charge, and the remaining 23.0% (37,846) were issued with charge.

Mashapa said under the National Credit Act (NCA), consumers are entitled to one free credit report annually from all 13 registered credit bureaus. “Should a consumer require an additional copy of his or her credit report within the same year, there will be a cost not exceeding R20.00 excluding Vat.”

Mashapa added that in terms of the NCA, consumers have the right to access and challenge the information on their credit records held by the credit bureaus if they believe that it is not accurate.

“When challenging the credit bureau record, the consumer needs to contact the credit bureau that issued the credit report. The credit bureau has 20 business days to investigate the matter,” said Mashapa.

The NCR also highlighted the removal of adverse consumer credit information and information relating to paid up judgment regulations which are set to come into effect on 01 April 2014. “This means that adverse consumer credit information, details and results of disputes lodged by consumers irrespective of the outcome of such disputes will be automatically removed from the credit bureau records.” “However, consumers who have judgments against their names need to settle the judgment debt before the judgment listing will be removed from the credit bureau records,” said Mashapa.

The NCR has been joined by the Credit Ombud in its ‘Know your credit status’ campaign. Credit Ombud Manie van Schalkwyk said if the consumer is not satisfied with the outcome from the credit bureau investigation or they do not have an answer after waiting for 20 business days for the bureau to assist them, they should escalate the matter to the Credit Ombud’s office where they will receive assistance free of charge. However, consumers need to have a reference number from the credit bureau, he adds.

“The Office of the Credit Ombud resolves complaints from consumers and businesses that are negatively impacted by credit information as well as complaints relating to non-bank credit agreements”, said Van Schalkwyk.

Examples of credit report related matters that can be escalated to the Credit Ombud’s office include:

 Complaints about incorrect or outdated listings on their credit profile;

 Complaints about unfair listings, as well as instances of fraud or ID theft; and

 Complaints about consumer account information not being updated accurately.

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