Prescription was introduced as means of protecting South African consumers from dishonest credit providers, who are responsible for recklessly lending credit and have contributed to the detrimental debt crisis many South Africans face today.
What does prescription mean?
- The Prescription Act 68 of 1969 (PA) says that a debt (payment of money) is extinguished/expired after the lapse (passing) of a specific time period.
- South Africa has different laws which specify time periods, for example, the PA says contractual and delictual debts extinguish after 3 years from when prescription starts.
- Prescription may be delayed or interrupted.
It is important to bear in mind that not all debt prescribes after a period of three years. Debt related to a cheque, for example, only prescribes after 6 years. The purpose of prescription in South Africa is to compel creditors and collections agents to collect money owed to them within a specified period and not delay collection so that it accumulates massive amounts of interest and costs.
What are the consequences of an extinguished debt?
- The debtor is not liable to the creditor for a debt after the time period has lapsed.
- The creditor may not institute legal action against the debtor for a debt.
When does prescription start?
As soon as the debt is due (a debt is due once the creditor can identify the debtor and the facts from which the debt arises).
If the debtor prevents the creditor from gaining knowledge of the debt (excluding debts arising from agreements) prescription runs from when the creditor has knowledge of the existence of the debt.
An important point to remember is that it’s perfectly legal for a debt collector or attorney to demand payment for a prescribed debt. It is up to a debtor to raise prescription as a defence.
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)