The main aim of the new National Credit Act (NCA) is to prevent over-indebtedness and to provide more accessible structures for dispute resolution. Among other solutions, the NCA aims to achieve this by creating a more transparent platform, which bodes well for debtors and creditors alike.
In a major breakthrough since the Act’s inception, credit providers can no longer institute legal action against a debtor without first issuing a letter of demand (a section 129 notice). There has been some debate and speculation about these notices, but a recent Constitutional Court judgement has now finally clarified the issue of delivery.
Delivery of the letter of demand
Although the NCA does not specifically define the word ‘delivery’, section 65 indicates that delivery could include collection from the credit provider, hand delivery to the debtor (at his expense), fax, ordinary post and email. In the case of Munien v BMW Financial Services the court defined ‘delivered’ as follows:
“… unless otherwise provided for, means sending a document by hand, by fax, by e-mail, or registered mail to an address chosen in the agreement by the proposed recipient, if no such address is available, then the recipient’s registered address.”
The next area that needed to be clarified was whether the creditor should prove that the debtor actually received the notice.
Many conflicting judgements have resulted since the Munien case and it was only after Rossouw and Another v First Rand Bank Ltd t/a FNB Homeloans that the interpretation became less ambiguous. The Rossouw case was an appeal court judgement and consequently has become the guideline for both proper delivery and proof of receipt of the notice by the debtor.
Due to the findings of this case it is accepted that sending a notice by prepaid registered post to the debtor’s selected residence (domicillium) is sufficient proof of delivery.
Although the court can, at its discretion, let legal action proceed without the prior valid delivery of the letter of demand, it is not advisable that creditors proceed without doing so.
Sebola v Standard Bank – judgement delivered on 7 June 2012
The court found that the banks as creditors must establish delivery of default notices and consumers must have a right to contest the action if the notice was not received.
The facts of the case were as follows:
Mashilo Shadrack Sebola and his wife successfully applied to the Constitutional Court for a default judgment to be rescinded on the basis that they had not received a notice from their creditor.
The Sebolas were in default of payment under a credit agreement. The creditor, Standard Bank, had issued a notice advising them of their rights, including the option to refer the agreement to a debt counsellor (section 129 notice).
The notice did not reach the address to which it was sent because the postal address was incorrect and so they did not respond. The bank obtained the judgment. The couple applied for its rescission on the basis that they did not receive the notice.
In 2009, the High Court in Johannesburg found that proof of dispatch was enough. The Sebolas maintained that the National Credit Act, properly interpreted, requires them to have received the notice.
The court held that:
“Where the credit provider posts the notice, proof of registered despatch to the address of the consumer, together with proof that the notice reached the appropriate post office for delivery to the consumer, will in the absence of the contrary indication constitute sufficient proof of delivery.”
The court further held that:
“In practical terms, this means the credit provider must obtain a post-despatch “track and trace” print-out from the website of the South African Post Office. As BASA’s submission explained, the “track and trace” service enables a despatcher who has sent a notice by registered mail to identify the post office at which it arrives from the Post Office website. This can be done quickly and easily. The registered item’s number is entered, the location of the item appears, and it can be printed.
The credit provider’s summons or particulars of claim should allege that the notice was delivered to the relevant post office and that the post office would, in the normal course, have secured delivery of a registered item notification slip, informing the consumer that a registered article was available for collection. Coupled with proof that the notice was delivered to the correct post office, it may reasonably be assumed in the absence of contrary indication, and the credit provider may credibly aver, that notification of its arrival reached the consumer and that a reasonable consumer would have ensured retrieval of the item from the post office.”
If a consumer states in contested proceedings that a notice did not reach them, the court must establish the truth.
Credit providers and attorneys should therefore generally observe the new developments and take measures to ensure process is delivered.
Can Your Words Be Used Against You?
Yes, they most certainly can. Here’s what the RICA Act has to say about recordings.
“This call may be recorded for quality control and records purposes…” Anyone who has been on hold with insurance companies would be familiar with these words — but what are the implications of a recorded conversation and when is it legal?
In essence, the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act of 2002 (mercifully shortened to ‘RICA’) permits any person, who is a party to a conversation to record that conversation, provided that it is direct communication — which is defined as oral communication between two or more persons that occurs in the immediate presence of those persons.
Section 4 of the RICA Act governs this aspect of our monitoring law. What is unclear, however, is the degree to which this extends to legal persons, such as a company that monitors a call centre agent’s performance, for example.
Related: Understanding Shareholder Agreements
Evidence in legal cases
While limited to direct communications and not covered by third party interception, such as an eavesdropper, the lesson here remains pretty stark — you could legally be recorded during any conversation you have.
The implications of this are significant — just ask former Springbok player Luke Watson, who had a conversation recorded during a function in 2008 that was subsequently leaked to the media.
Furthermore, with the widespread use of smartphones, together with applications freely available on the relevant app stores, designed to record cellphone calls, the likelihood of you being recorded — whether you know it or not, is ever increasing.
Beyond the moral or ethical ambiguity of this, the legal ramifications of what is recorded are more certain — the recording may be used against you as evidence in any criminal proceedings, or equally as possible, in civil proceedings where, for example, agreement to a contract or term thereof is in question, or in the insurance company’s case, whether or not to repudiate a claim based on the information you provide to them.
Related: Protect Your SME From PoPI
Know the business exception
Section 6 of the RICA Act contains a course of business exception that allows the interception of indirect communication:
- a) By means of which a transaction is entered into in the ordinary course of business
- b) Which relates to that business
- c) Which otherwise takes place in the course of that business.
While there has not, to my knowledge, been a reported case that deals with this aspect of the RICA Act, the implications regarding the use of this information to evidence the valid conclusion of a contract or as to the intentions of the parties to a contract are significant, particularly given that the scope is relatively broad, although limited.
The matter has, however, come before the Constitutional Court in the 1999 criminal case of S v Kidson, where the court held, per Justice Cameron, that unless a “reasonable expectation of privacy exists” it would be difficult to prevent the recording or interception falling within the ambit of the RICA Act.
Where to from here?
From both a commercial and criminal perspective, this should serve to remind us all of our wise grandmother’s words — if you have nothing nice to say, rather say nothing at all (especially because you never know whether you are being recorded).
Why You Shouldn’t Be Sweating The Fine Print
Signing a contract is a big deal, and you never want to sign anything you don’t fully understand.
While it is almost always a grudge purchase, ensuring that you have had a legal eye cast over a contract you intend to conclude means that you are protected, that you understand the nature of the obligations you are taking on and perhaps, an even better deal for you.
Given that legal agreements are an important aspect of commerce, we have distilled key points for you to consider, before engaging with external counsel. This will make the process more efficient and, hopefully, less expensive.
Reviewing a contract is a tricky business, not entirely different from asking a builder to finish building a half built house. However, there are some useful techniques to ensure you get the most out of the exchange with your lawyer.
Always create a timeline
You have lived and breathed your business and this transaction, while your attorney is possibly hearing about the matter for the first time.
Setting the scene correctly puts your attorney in the picture and explains what you want out of the exchange. Print this out for your attorney.
It will help an attorney identify key areas of risk which you might not have anticipated. Be sure to also tell your external counsel how quickly you need the review to be done. Setting expectations means there is less chance of disappointment later.
Provide supporting documents
It wastes your time and money when your attorney has to come back to ask you for supporting documentation.
Try to anticipate which documents will be relevant to your transaction and bring copies of them to the meeting for your attorney to consider. If you have previous versions of the agreement, for example, bring those too.
Remember, the more background work you do, the simpler and more efficient the process will be.
Understand your needs
Are you looking for a high level overview of your document to highlight some key contractual risks or are you looking for a thoroughly sanitised document reviewed from every possible angle?
I recently had to look over Jim’s Sale of Business Agreement for the potential acquisition of his Technology Company. He came to me with limited areas of risk which he had identified and wanted me to look at these clauses.
I was able to advise him to push back on certain clauses he had already negotiated and the resulting document placed him in a stronger legal and financial position. It was easy to justify the costs associated with the review.
This is not always necessary though — where there is limited legal exposure, or you have no bargaining power, the role of the attorney can be restricted, but still worth the investment since you have assurance that your legal exposure is as restricted as possible.
Be guided by the relative value of the document and the ensuing legal responsibilities — is this a standard supply agreement with a strange payment clause or a multi-national acquisition of intellectual property? The type of expert you engage with will vary, as will the cost of the review.
Areas of concern
Directly related to knowing your business and understanding your needs, is your responsibility to communicate specific areas of concern to your attorney.
A recent client’s business processed a lot of personal information, in accordance with the Protection of Personal Information Act, but, the contractor they were about to sign a service supply agreement sought to have access to some of this personal information.
Seen alone, there was little risk, but within the context of this business, we were able to avoid this. A trusted and qualified expert will help you navigate the complex commercial world.
Are You Protecting Your Customer’s Data?
The collection, usage and sharing of personal information is regulated primarily by the Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013. The Act was recently promulgated and is yet to be implemented. The Act seeks to give expression to the right to privacy provided for in the Constitution.
At the time of writing, the primary enforcement arm contemplated by the Act, the Information Regulator, has yet to be appointed. Once appointed, all businesses will be required to register with the Information Regulator to make public what personal information is being collected, and what it is being used for.
The Information Regulator will be empowered to enforce compliance with the Act, and able to investigate whether an entity is lawfully processing the public’s personal information.
Related: Protect Your SME From PoPI
How are privacy policies affected?
The Act defines the term ‘processing’ broadly, and includes “the collection, receipt, recording, organisation, collation, storage, updating or modification, retrieval, alteration, consultation or use of a person’s personal information”. To process a person’s personal information, the prior consent of the person (data subject) is needed.
The Act restricts a company’s ability to store personal information outside of the country by requiring that it be transferred only to countries in which comparable security laws and data protection measures exist.
A situation such as this arises more easily than expected. Consider the example of the humble contact form: Your website, with its local server situated in Midrand, utilises a plugin to create custom contact forms.
Although your server may be in Midrand, every person who completes the contact form on your website has their personal information transferred and stored on servers in the home jurisdiction of your plugin creator, which may be in the US. But the plugin creator may also make use of third-party service providers based in Vietnam. An in-depth investigation of all third-party plugins and processes of a website is therefore required to ensure that you comply with the Act.
Access by a data subject to personal information
A data subject is entitled to request a full disclosure of any personal information held by the company.
As the procedures governing access to personal information overlap, companies should also ensure compliance with the processes outlined by the Promotion of Access to Information Act 2 of 2000 (‘PAIA’).
In terms of PAIA, all companies are required to compile a manual that needs to be registered with the South African Human Rights Commission. This manual sets out the company’s contact information, what records are available for inspection, the identity of the leadership of the company, as well as the manner in which a person may request access to information held by the company.
However, the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services has exempted private bodies from complying with this requirement for a period of five years, starting from
1 January 2016.
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