We were fortunate enough to have the office of the Credit Ombudsman on our show. The Credit Ombud is an independent body that is there to make sure your consumer rights are protected.

The most common cases that are handled by the Credit Ombud include incorrect statements of account, emolument attachment orders, fraud cases and alleged reckless lending cases.

More...

In This Episode

  • Functions of the Credit Ombud, which is free to all consumers
  • The different types of complaints the Credit Ombud deals with
  • Procedure for closing one’s store accounts and making sure it is closed
  • How to dispute incorrect information on your credit report
  • How to lodge a complaint with the Credit Ombud

Lee Soobrathi

About Lee Soobrathi

Lee Soobrathi is the Head Of Department, Case Management at the office of the Credit Ombud.

The Office of the Credit Ombud resolves complaints from consumers and businesses that are negatively impacted by credit bureau information or when a consumer has a dispute with a credit provider.

https://www.creditombud.org.za/

Call Centre: 0861 OMBUDS (0861 662837)

SMS: “Help” to 44786

Transcription

[00:00] Welcome to the official podcast from mycreditstatus.co.za, We will be introducing you to credit experts who will be providing valuable insight and advice from your financial health to improving your credit status and score. Your host for the show is Laura Palmieri.


Laura: [00:20] Hello, and welcome to another episode of My Credit Status podcast and as usual, I'm your host, Laura. Today, we are very fortunate to have the opportunity to interview Lee Subrati. Now, Lee is the head of department, case management at the office of the credit ombud. Now, to our listeners here's just a brief background on the functions of the credit ombud. The credit ombud resolves complaints from consumers and businesses that are negatively impacted by the Credit Bureau's information or when a consumer has a dispute with a credit provider. Lee, welcome. Thank you very much for joining us.


Lee: [00:56] Thank you Laura for having us. We really appreciate the opportunity.


Laura: [00:59] No, actually I was really excited when your office was keen to come on board for this podcast.


Lee: [01:06] Yes, yes we always willing to spread the word consumer education to spread the word of the office because we are here to assist the consumer so whatever we can do to assist the industry and the consumer, we're willing to participate in whatever way we can.


Laura: [01:19] And that's why I'm very excited because I personally don't believe that there's enough awareness of what the credit ombud actually stands for and what they actually do. So, let's just kick-off. Can you briefly explain the role and function of the credit ombud?


Lee: [01:32] Not a problem. So the credit ombud offer is a voluntary ombud scheme, so essentially we are an entity that has been created by members in the credit industry. What do I mean by members? So essentially at some point, the credit providers within the industry, your major credit providers together with the Credit Bureau Associations and so forth, came together to establish a method of redress for a consumer. So a consumer who has a complaint or is disgruntled about an account or a service that a credit provider has given to them can escalate the matter to the credit ombud that provides the method or rather a platform for them to air their disputes and for an opportunity for them to resolve it as amicably and as fairly as possible. Of course, methods or rather principles like fairness, transparency, independence, our principles that the offer stands for and will not budge on in any respect. So we are here to provide that avenue of redress for the consumer, for them to resolve whatever dispute they may have relating to a credit agreement.


Laura: [02:36] And also just to clarify, this service is completely free of charge to the consumers.


Lee: [02:40] For sure, for sure. It's a free of charge service and the consumer can call in or lodge a complaint on our website and we are here to assist them with no costs that are attached to any part of the resolution whether it's in their favour or against them, there's no cost that they have to bear in the process.


Laura: [02:57] Okay, now the next question actually fits what you were describing about the credit ombud which is to say how do you ensure that your office is independent of the credit industry?


Lee: [03:07] No, for sure. So, the office of the credit ombud we are funded by the members in the industry. Remember we were created by the members in the industry. We are what you could call an industry ombud for credit. So I mean always the question pops up, but how can an ombud be independent if they are funded by the very company that they have to investigate? Well, that is why we have a council. So we have a council of members that regulate the affairs of the ombud and as part of that council, we have consumer bodies that sit on the council, to number one, ensure the dependence of the credit ombud and to ensure that we are not crossing over the line of being favourable to a credit provider, simply because they fund the office.


[03:52] And I mean independence, trust and transparency are one of the key principles and mandates of the office which we hold in high stead, and in any event, any consumer that is disgruntled by an outcome, or for example, feel that the decision of the ombud has been unfair, there's other methods of redress that they can escalate it to, and if we show bias in any event, it will come out if that further escalation point is taken on. So we try to be as independent as possible. We have the mechanism in place to ensure that our independence is carried out at all times, but yes there is a method of redress should a consumer feel that we are obviously being biased or that we aren't being unfair in the circumstances.


Laura: [04:40] And just out of interest sake and this is a personal question. Have you had any situations where people feel that then it's been slanted against them because you are funded by the credit industry?


Lee: [04:51] Oh, for sure. So, with our decisions, our members are bound by our decisions, which means that once we make a decision, as volunteering to be part of an ombud, especially our office means that you will abide by the decision that we make if it gets that far if we do make a ruling in the matter. But if we make a decision and the consumer's unhappy about it they have the option of taking it to a court of law, of getting an attorney involved or even escalating to other platforms like the national consumer tribunal and so forth. So, I mean we are here to ensure that we try to instil that sort of dependence and stuff for the consumer when it comes to those methods of redress, and we are here just to provide the mechanism and remember the ombud is an informal process. It's to take away the costing, the time, the delays that are sometimes experienced in courts of law, so we are here to provide the informal basis, the method of contact and communication between the consumer and the current provider.


Laura: [05:54] To resolve it as soon as possible.


Lee: [05:56] Yes.


Laura: [05:57] Okay. I suppose, as you say the fairness and you have to hold those standards, that's the key to the success of the credit ombud to be independent irrelevant of the fact that it's subsidised by the credit industry otherwise it wouldn't work.


Lee: [06:14] Sure. There is going to be instances, remember in terms of our statistics we find in favour of consumers I would say around the 55% mark, but I can stand corrected on that specific figure, but it's more or less the 50% mark. So there are going to be consumers that we find against. I mean you might come in and you might be unsure as to how interest works. You might be unsure as to how you're being charged and you may validly feel, listen, I'm being overcharged because I can't afford to pay this account because the interest is much higher than what I expected. It may well be that the interest is correct and we find against you. A disgruntled consumer may, of course, say, “ Are you being biased towards the credit provider? Are you trying to obviously favour the credit providers because they fund you?” which is why when we resolve our matters, we ensure that we educate the consumer.


[07:08] We tell them, "Listen, this is the Act. This is a section of the Act that tells you what you should be paying and this is the calculation that's reached to show exactly what you are paying." So, I think a lot of the time consumers miss the point because they're not sure how the law works. On how it applies to them, so we try to provide the level of transparency rather that level of education. I mean consumer education is one of our mandates as well as the office, so by resolving the dispute, what we also find is that we are educating the consumer. We are showing the consumer that these are your rights in terms of the act. At the same time, the credit provider is impartial. We are neither, for the consumer, nor the credit provider. We are there to create that awareness, that education that sometimes lacks in the industry and which you obviously confirmed for me previously, which we said, that there is a lack of awareness. There is a lack of consumer education at a level that it should be in the industry.


Laura: [08:00] That's great, yes. Okay, well, that's interesting. I really appreciate the fact that if it is not in the favour of the consumer that you actually supply them information and the reason behind it. You're not just saying, sorry, it's not unacceptable and that I think is very important. It's so simple to say, okay, the credit provider is correct in this matter, next. The education part attached to a negative outcome for the consumer is fantastic.


Lee: [08:30] Yes, yes for sure. We provide all information that we receive provided that it's information that's not confidential and so forth. So what we do it as an example, if a consumer comes says, "Listen, I haven't been receiving a statement. I'm being overcharged. I'm not sure why my instalment is as high as it is. I didn't expect this." So we will get a copy of the contract. We will get a copy of the statement. We will go through the charges with the consumer. We'll explain it to them to show them, listen, these are the possible reasons as to why you are led to believe what you are currently believing, but this is the law and as the ombud, we can't change the law. We are yet to implement the law and to ensure that your rights are being protected and that your rights are being applied in terms of the act. That is the best that we can do and we provide you with all of the tools and all of the information that you will need in order to escalate the matter further.


Laura: [09:21] Okay. Now, a quick question when you say that you look through the contracts and that does the consumer supply you with all that information, you get it from the consumer with their query?


Lee: [09:30] So, I must be careful of my words, rather every consumer should request a copy of their credit agreement when entering into an agreement. In fact, even before concluding an agreement, they should request a copy of the pre quotation agreement. They need to understand what are the interest and costs. A lot of the times we do find the consumers don't have copies of these agreements, but what we do is that when we send the request to the credit provider, we request all of the information, so we request a copy of that agreement. We request a copy of the statement to ensure that we have all of the information necessary in order to assess the dispute in terms of the act. So if the consumer has it, it is a bonus, it just means that we can compare what the consumer has together with what the credit provider provides, but in any event, if a consumer is unable to provide the information then we will request it from a credit provider. But what's important to know that at some point in the investigation, the burden of proof is going to shift and as an example, if you will allow me just to give an example quick.


[10:30] If a consumer, for example, lodges a dispute saying that I've paid five hundred in June, but it's not reflecting on my statement and as a result, my account is not as low as it should be. The burden of proof will then shift from the credit provider to the consumer to say, "Listen we've now received your query. This is your contract. This is your statement, provide us with the proof of payments so that we can have a look at it, and we can allocate it and make the necessary adjustments on the account."


[10:56] Now, in the failure of providing the proof of payment, we, as the ombud cannot prove that there was a payment in fact. So in the absence of proof of a payment all we are left to look and to assess is the statement itself, so if a consumer is unable to provide that proof, unfortunately, we cannot take it any further. We'll have to assess what we have and if that statement is in accordance with the act, and if charges are correct there's nothing further that we can do in the matter, but should they have the proof we will ensure that payment is allocated and that the necessary adjustments are made on the account.


Laura: [11:28] Okay, that's very good to know. Now, this is just some of the questions that we thought that our consumers would be interested in. Now, the next one is, I do not agree with the information on my credit report, what do I need to do? Now we get this a lot.


Lee: [11:43] Okay, yes so your credit report essentially is sort of your passport. It's sort of your identity in the credit world. We know now everything revolves around credit. Credit is a method whereby we can purchase things that we would otherwise not be able to afford with cash, so to speak, so your credit profile is of utmost importance. It shows who you are. It shows what financial standing you have so it's prudent and it should be expected from a consumer that they check their credit reports quite frequently. Now, in the event that you pick up there's an account that's reflecting that shouldn't be reflecting there, or that an account is not being administered correctly. As an example, my payments are not reflecting on that profile, the first thing that they should do is that they should contact the Credit Bureau from which the credit report was drawn.


[12:33] Remember, we have various credit bureaus that are registered with the national credit regulator. All of them hold information. They hold information relating to credit accounts, to service accounts, for example, your cellular accounts, your insurance products, all of that information is housed in your credit profile. If you feel that information is not reflecting correctly or is reflecting adversity and shouldn't be reflecting that way, you need to contact the relevant Credit Bureau. You need to lodge the dispute with them. In terms of the National Credit act, you have to allow them twenty business days for them to investigate the dispute. Now, if after twenty business days you find that they're not getting back to you or if within the twenty business days you get a response that's unfavourable. For example, you receive information that you feel is unfair or that you feel is incorrect, at that point, that's when the credit ombud steps in.


[13:24] So at that point once you've received that unfavourable response or twenty business days have passed, you can then escalate that matter to the office of the credit ombud which is our office, with a reference number. So the important thing, and one of the most important things is that when you log the dispute with the Credit Bureau, you have to request a reference number because that reference number will show and gives you a reference from when to check the twenty businesses, because we as the ombud are only entitled or rather allowed to take on disputes once the twenty business days have passed, or the Credit Bureau has been given a reasonable opportunity to investigate the complaint and get back to the consumer.


Laura: [14:00] And from your experience overall the credit bureaus, do they get back within those twenty days?


Lee: [14:07] Yes, I mean you must understand we have over twenty-five million credit-active consumers in the country. Again, I have to just confirm that figure, so there's going to be millions of these accounts. You're going to have millions of disputes that are going forth. Fought. We as a credit ombud I mean with the percentage of disputes that we receive compared to the industry itself, it's quite clear that credit bureaus to resolve the disputes, a quite large portion of them, but you are going to have those disputes that fall through the cracks that obviously, that trickle through, and that's where the ombud comes in.


[14:36] So if you feel that the Credit Bureau has not addressed your dispute in the manner that you expect or that they don't get back to you, that is why the ombud is here. It's to provide that second level of protection, that second sort of safety net to ensure that consumers are not being given the short end of the stick. So that is why we are here to provide that second level of redress for the consumer, but if I had to answer your question, I would say, yes, credit bureaus are resolving disputes. I'm sure there are thousands of disputes out there that are being resolved, but we handle the disputes that are not resolved or not attended to in the process.


Laura: [15:08] Now, this is something I'm curious about. Is there any penalty if a Credit Bureau doesn't respond within those twenty days currently?


Lee: [15:17] So, in terms of a penalty there's no penalty that will be inflicted upon a credit Bureau if they do not revert within the twenty business days. It's simply a process that's followed and how I see it is that the credit ombud was established to address that sort of need, that sort of gap. So that if the Credit Bureau doesn't get back to the consumer in time, the consumer is not placed in a situation with their hands tied behind their backs or rather where they are seen as not having any sort of avenue. So we are here, the credit ombud, is here to assist, and we will assist wherever and however we can to ensure that their accounts are updated correctly.


[15:58] Just one point that I need to bring across though, I should've mentioned this earlier, is that the office of the credit ombud we deal with non-bank credit matters, okay. When I say non-bank credit matters, which means that if you have a matter, a dispute relating to a bank account if you have a matter whether it be just a credit dispute relating to the agreement or the statement itself, or whether it relates to the credit information, you need to escalate that to the ombudsman for banking services. So on the 1st of October, 2019, the jurisdiction for banking matters was taken away from the credit ombud, so now what we deal with is non-banking matters. non-banking member matches rather, and any matters that are relating to a bank or relating to an institution that's not a member of the ombud will need to be either referred to the banking ombud or refer to the National Credit Regulator.


Laura: [16:51] Okay, it's good to know that. That actually comes to my next question, we were saying what types of complaints do you handle.


Lee: [16:58] For sure, for sure. So, we deal with non-bank credit agreements and I'm going to give you an example just to give a bit of context and a distinction between the two as we deal with credit information disputes. Now, what is a non-bank credit agreement? So any agreements that you have, any dispute that's relating to the agreement itself, as an example, I'm unsure if the interest rate is correct. I've made a payment that wasn't allocated on the account. I feel like I'm being overcharged. We know the term that's thrown around or obviously it has been thrown around obviously quite loosely over the previous years is the issue and the concept of In Duplim and being overcharged. Obviously, we know that there's been major court cases on that issue specifically. Issues relating to the prescription of accounts when an account is prescribed where the three years have passed that allows a credit provider to collect on and that's a very general statement. There are intricacies that need to be taken into account as well. So it's those disputes that's linked directly to the account itself and how the account is administered.


[17:58] The other portion of disputes which we deal with is credit information disputes. Its disputes relating to how your payment profile is being administered. Your information regarding adverse accounts, an adverse account is like, for example, a judgment listing, an account that's written off, a listing that shows on your profile that you have a credit provider that's looking for you, a trace alert. These are things that will negatively impact your credit profile. So we deal with credit information which relates to your credit profile as well as the agreement itself, but the point to bring across and to remember is that if it's related to a bank, we can't get involved and we can only get involved if it's a member of the credit on. So, if you aren't sure about whether a credit provider is a member of the ombud you can contact us and we'll give you further clarity on that issue.


Laura: [18:48] Okay, that's actually, my next question is what are the processes consumers are required before lodging a complaint with your office? If it's, like you say, if it's a query with a Credit Bureau you have to allow the twenty-day period.


Lee: [19:00] So in both instances, so with the non-bank credit agreements you have to allow the party to either attempt to resolve or resolve the dispute within twenty business days. So if I have an example with a retailer that I've purchased clothing on or I've purchased furniture on account with, but I'm disgruntled about how the agreement is being carried or rather I have a dispute relating to the statement itself. All I have to do is contact the credit provider, tell them, "Listen, Mr A, I have this dispute." Try and get a reference number if you can. Allow them twenty business days to resolve. If after twenty businesses they haven't resolved the dispute or they come back to you, as an example, after ten days and say, listen, "We've looked at your matter we can't assist you." At that point, you're more than welcome to contact the credit ombud with those reference numbers and we will gladly open the despite and we will start the process for you. With regard to credit information as I previously mentioned, you have to contact the Credit Bureau first allow them twenty business days, ensure you get a reference number, and if your matter is not resolved within that twenty business day period escalate to the office of the credit ombud and we will get gladly assist where we can.


Laura: [20:07] So I think the key takeaway of this is that it's a twenty-day period. You first got to go to the correct channels as an example, like you said, twenty-day period. The other thing is the reference. Reference, reference, reference if you want to escalate it with your office.


Lee: [20:22] Yes. The reference is very important because the reference shows, and it's your evidence to show, listen that I have given them a chance to dissolve it and they haven't resolved it , because in anything you have to give the party the opportunity to try and remedy the mistake and many times they do resolve it immediately. But where there is or they might come back and say, "Listen, we've looked at your matter. We've assessed it from our processes and from a legal point of view there's nothing requiring us to do anything further." You can escalate it further, and what we are trying to promote within the industry and within our members is that they mention the credit ombud in their processes, in their documentation. So the consumer knows that listen, if I am disgruntled, there is another method of redress that I have to ensure that my rights are being affected or rather being seen.


Laura: [21:13] Now, this is something close to home for me. The saying store cards are easy to open, but not so easy to close. So, many questions I gave instructions to close my one store account only to realise that it was still open. So what is the correct procedure for closing one's account and making sure it's closed?


Lee: [21:31] For sure, so let me just give a brief background on how the law applies in this aspect. Remember at any time at any time, whatever credit agreement that you open a consumer always has the right to close that credit agreement at any time in the course or during the subsistence of their credit agreement. If I take out a store account, for example, and we know a store account doesn't have a set term to it. It's a continuous account, it's a revolving credit account so what happens is at any time if I want to close that account I'm entitled to do so provided and the act enforces this, that I contact the credit provider to ensure that all outstanding balances are paid. It's only once the outstanding balances and settlement balances have been paid, that I have the right to close an account because at that point I am no longer liable to the credit provider.


[22:19] For as long as there's an amount owing to the credit provider, I cannot close it until I settle that account, but a credit provider cannot refuse to close an account provided that you've settled their account. But what are the concerns or what are the points that one should consider when they are doing these things? So the first point to consider is that you must contact the credit provider to request the settlement balances. Now, remember you're not going to have a perfect situation where a consumer calls in on the 13th of a month and says, "Listen, I want to settle it now so that I'm closed off with it." You must ensure and you must ask the question, does the settlement balance include or exclude my instalment for the month?


[23:00] For we have had instances in the past where a consumer calls in a second or third week of the month requesting a settlement balance, but sometimes that settlement balance does not include the instalment that goes off two weeks later or at the end of the month. So once they settle their account, they realise, listen, a debit goes off at the end of the month, they end up reversing that debit order thinking that they've already paid it, meanwhile, they were actually liable for that debit to go through.


[23:27] So the first point is request a settlement balance from your credit provider, ask the credit provider does it or does it not include my instalment for the month and is this the entire balance that's outstanding for the month of July, for the month of August, depending on what month you're in and ensure once you've paid that, that you stick to the days within which that settlement balance applies because when you get a settlement balance, you get a period within which that settlement balance is valid. Either five days or seven days or ten days, so ensure that you paid within that period of time. Once you have proof of payment of that settlement balance, all you have to do is call the credit provider, tell them, "Listen, I've paid the outstanding balance. This is the proof of payment. Can I now have a paid-up letter and please confirm for me that my account is closed." I hope I'm not talking too much if you want to stop me you can.


Laura: [24:17] No, I've learned something. I never knew, I didn't think about it if I closed an account to actually request does this include my instalment.


Lee: [24:23] Yes, it does because I've personally dealt with matters previously where consumers request a settlement balance, but at times that balance doesn't include the debit order that's due two weeks later is because the credit provider automatically assumes that you know the debit's going to go off because you see what happens is that sometimes different credit providers have different periods within which their statements close. So if my statement closes, for example on the 5th of every month, if I call the credit provider after the 5th of that month, that statement will only reflect the balance, excluding the debit that's due at the end of the month.


Laura: [24:59] That makes sense.


Lee: [25:00] So it's important at first glance as soon as you call the credit provider you say, "Listen, I'm requesting the settlement balance, but please ensure that the balance that you're giving to me includes all amounts that I'm owing and not excluding any amounts that's going to be due in two weeks time so that I can take that into account when I'm settling the account."


Laura: [25:18] Like I've said I've learned something new for myself actually. I didn't realise that.


Lee: [25:24] No, for sure and there's also another point to consider, remember paying up an account and closing up an account are two totally separate things. I can pay up an account and still have the facility available or I can close that account. So a lot of consumers assume that once I pay up an account, once I pay up the outstanding balance, that the account is automatically closed. Now, this is where the confusion comes in. This is why you have to specifically request that the account is closed because for as long as you have the facility open, a credit provider can charge you a service fee for that account.


[25:56] So as an example I may settle the entire balance now that's' due, but because I haven't requested the account to be closed that account is still open and still being administered by the credit provider. Should their internal policy provide that they charge you a service fee every month for as long as the account is open in six months later, I might realise that I didn't close the account when I settled it and I'm due for six months worth of service fees, which can sometimes rake up into an amount exceeding three hundred rands. So it's very important that if you want to close an account that you settle the entire balance and the second requirement, you must specifically request that the account is closed so that no further purchases can be made and yes that nothing else can be administered on the account.


Laura: [26:38] I mean, this to me just goes to show how important consumer education is.


Lee: [26:44] For sure definitely. It's a very slight difference, but it's a difference that can make or break your income. We know we'll be living in times at the moment where a loaf of bread and litre of milk obviously is the determining factor as to whether or not you have food on the table at the end of the month, that's how bad things are from a financial point of view. So, a service fee can go up to, different credit providers provide different service fees, but a service fee at many times exceeds sixty rands per month and if I leave an account open for twelve months, I didn't realize I haven't closed it. I mean you do the math, that's seven rands that I have to cough up at the end of the day.


Laura: [27:18] That's very useful. Now currently, are there any new legislation that our consumers should be aware of?


Lee: [27:24] Well from a credit point of view and from a consumer point of view, there isn't. According to my knowledge, there's nothing at the moment that has been introduced or rather that's been enacted. We know also with COVID and with the pandemic it's put quite a slow down on everything holistically, but I mean one thing to look out for, if I could say that, is that In Duplim case that I was talking about. We know the whole Stellenbosch case and stuff recently, that was decided in late 2019, but I do believe that that decision is obviously being appealed at the moment, but because of COVID and the slow down and stuff, everything has been delayed. That would have a direct impact on how an account is charged from an interest point of view, from a default point of view, what interest should be applied and what maximum threshold is applied if I'm in default and for as long as I am in default.


Lee: [28:13] So that's one of the cases or one of the points to look out for, but one can always go onto the national credit regulator website onto the credit ombud website because we try to keep those updated and stuff around as much as possible. We also have a newsletter that we circulate on a monthly basis so you can look out for that, even on our website because that'll give any updates or any current changes in legislation and regulation as well. But there's nothing pressing at this moment or rather there hasn't been any recent changes with regards to how an account is administered or what applies in terms of the national credit act.


Laura: [28:51] Okay, and I think we touched on this, but what are the most common complaints that your office deals with just briefly what are they?


Lee: [28:57] So I'm going to try and answer in this way, a statement of account or a credit agreement can have a dozen disputes linked to one dispute and as an example, if a consumer comes and says, "Listen, I feel I'm being overcharged." There are many things that you can be overcharged on. Are you being overcharged on interest, are you being overcharged on the original initiation fee. Are you being overcharged on default interest? So our complaints when they come into the office first start out as a very general complaint. Consumers come in disgruntled and this also the consumer education obviously needs to play an even bigger role, a consumer will come and say, "Listen, I feel I'm being overcharged on the account."


[29:35] It's up to us as the ombud to try and dissect that account to say, "Listen, this is the account that we have. We now need to look at these accounts and say listen what areas do you feel you're being overcharged." But aside from interest and overcharged there are disputes that we deal with are disputes relating to fraud. Remember fraud can affect a non-bank credit agreement, as well as your credit profile. If you have a credit agreement that's on your credit profile that you didn't take out I mean we need to have that thing removed as soon as possible because it can have adverse effects on you. Checking your credit profile on a regular basis will tell you whether or not there are accounts on there that belong to you or not, which is why you should make it a habit.


Laura: [30:15] That's great.


Lee: [30:15] The important thing to note is that a consumer is entitled to a free credit report once a year from a Credit Bureau. So, at least once a year you should be drawing your report. It's free of charge and checking your account to ensure that there's no unwanted accounts on there or rather you may have closed an account six months ago that's still reflecting as open. These are things that have an effect on your financial status, on your ability to get further credit. So these are the disputes that we receive, but it's across the board. It relates to fraud, prescription, overcharging of interest, duplication of accounts.


[30:51] Sometimes you might have an account that's reflecting under a spouse's profile, but it's reflecting on your profile incorrectly that should be reflecting rather under a spouses profile, that's reflecting under your profile. So these are the types of accounts that we deal with. Necessarily there hasn't been any serious spike in any of the areas. We still continue to receive more or less the same sort of disputes in those areas that we receive for the previous year so it seems to be consistent throughout the years.


Laura: [31:20] Okay, now this is a famous question we have to ask. Have you noticed changes in the industry since the impact of COVID-19? Has there been an increase in complaints, an increase in …


Lee: [31:32] Yes, so in terms of our experience COVID-19 has hit every sector, be it financial, be it construction bid, just simply every industry, every sector has been severely impacted by COVID, especially, remember our sort of productivity is dependent on the consumer's ability to have access to us. So remember with COVID everybody went on a lock-down, nobody had access to the office. Even we had to re-look at the way we do things. We had to obviously put mechanisms in place. I mean at the moment we have 90% of the office that's working remotely so we've seen a dip in the lock-down period, but ever since the 1st of May when things started to open up and we had the levels and stuff, relaxed and stuff from level five to level four from May, we've seen an increase in that.


[32:24] So to, with level three, obviously be implemented from the 1st of June. We've seen an increase in dispute, so the consumers now are starting to engage more. They’re starting to look at their financial circumstances. They're starting to look at what needs to be corrected on their profile in terms of the accounts that they're paying. Remember there are certain institutions that have offered certain relief mechanism because of COVID so it's also that aspect that you also have to look at. So we are seeing or rather to answer your question we've seen an impact that COVID has had across the board with consumers financially in terms of the way their accounts maybe have been administered. Also one also has to look at how has one's credit profile been impacted by the payment holidays that the banks and other credit providers have implemented certain institutions. So it's those things you have to look at, but overall we now starting to see a slight increase in disputes as consumers are starting to engage and as the economy opens up more, we are seeing that increase coming and that the level of disputes starting to level out again.


Laura: [33:28] Okay, that's interesting. Now our final question, so how does the consumer not contact your office? What did they do in order to log a complaint?


Lee: [33:39] Okay, so we have various mechanisms with which they can access. Firstly, um, now with lock-down and most people working remotely, one of the easiest ways to open a dispute is through our website. If consumers want to access our website, all they have to do is go to www.creditombud.org.za on the website, you'll be able to access a complaint form. You can insert all your details on there, select the credit provider to which you have a complaint against and then that complaint automatically gets filtered into the system. It's assigned to a case manager and they will obviously begin the process and contact the consumer and move forward that way. So that's one way of opening a dispute.


[34:19] We have a free SMS line so if a consumer wants us to call them back, they can SMS their names and their contact numbers to 44786, that's 44786. It's a free SMS line. You'll send that SMS, we'll get that SMS and we'll call you back to ask you, "Listen, what is your complaint?" Even if it's something you're unsure about if we need to refer you to the body that does have jurisdiction to do so, we will give you the relevant contact details and just point you in the right direction. We also have a share call number that’s 0861662837, that's 0861662837. They can contact us on that number even though we are working remotely, we do have agents who will be able to pick up that call. If we are unable to take your call we will call you back and yes and we'll get the process going so that we can see how best we can assist you in working in whatever form.


Laura: [35:17] Okay, but just to our listeners we will be posting the podcast on our website and at the same time all the contact information that you just mentioned will be listed as well for quick reference. I'm going to be including the share call, the SMS, and also the website so that our consumers can log on straight away or get more information.


Lee: [35:34] For sure.


Laura: [35:35] And on a parting note, Lee, thank you once again for your time. Even I must say I'm impressed. I've learned a few things that I thought I knew quite a lot, but even I learned a few things that I never knew about with regards to this.


Lee: [35:48] No, for sure. As a closing thought, we are in uncertain times. It's difficult for the consumers. The purpose of the ombud to exist is to assist the person or who obviously has the least ability to have their matter heard. That is why the ombud is here. We are here to provide that voice, to provide that platform for the consumers and if consumers are ever unsure about anything regarding these accounts they can contact us. We will direct them or put them in the right direction of who they need to contact, but if we can assist we will endeavour and try our best to obviously instil fairness and provide the method of redress as best as we can.


[36:26] But thank you so much for the opportunity. We really appreciate it and yes contact us if you have a query, but yes, thank you so much for the time and for giving us the opportunity.


Laura: [36:35] Thank you very much, Lee.


Lee: [36:35] Take care.


[36:37] Thank you for listening to My Credit Status podcast. Make sure you tune into our next show where we will continue to provide you with valuable information about your credit health. We value your feedback, so we would love it if you can rate and review us on iTunes. Don't forget to subscribe to this podcast so that you can be alerted as soon as a new episode is live. Visit mycreditstatus.co.za.

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