IN YOUR CORNER
Are you overpaying? Check right now
Companies are quick to punish consumers for debt, but watch what happens when they owe you
Check your bank statements for duplicate or unauthorised debits. Do it now.
If we consumers owe a company money, they have all sorts of means at their disposal to get us to pay up, with costs and interest if we don’t do so fast enough, by which time we have a ruined credit record as punishment.
But overpay a company and most will take their sweet time in refunding you – without interest.
At best they’ll say it will take “seven to 10 days”, even when they’ve unilaterally cancelled your paid-for online order. That’s beyond preposterous if you ask me.
It’s an even bigger struggle if you discover that you’ve been overpaying a company for years, as Mahomed Kadodia did recently.
In 2010 he had a Netstar tracking device installed in his VW Polo – a vehicle he still owns – and four years later he was called by the company and “upgraded” to a better-priced package, as he put it. (In fact, he’d long since paid off the tracking device by then, so only the tracking fee was justified, hence the need for a reduction – see below.)
But as Kadodia recently discovered, the original subscription wasn’t cancelled, so he was debited for the same tracking service in the same car twice – a higher and a lower amount – for almost five years.
“I did not pick this up as it’s on my company bank account, and my accountant was under impression that it could be for a second vehicle,” he said. “So it just carried on until we came across this double debit in December 2018.”
When he called Netstar, an agent acknowledged the double charge, and estimated the overpayment to be in the region of R7,000, but came back to him to say he would only be refunded about R3,400 because “by law” he can only claim back an overpayment for a maximum of three years. His claim prescribes after that, he was told.
“But this has been their fault – is that justifiable?” he asked me.
I ran the scenario past consumer goods and services ombud Magauta Mphahlele, who said it was not.
“I am not aware of such a limitation,” she said.
“As per section 12 of the Prescription Act, prescription starts running from the time the debt becomes due.
“That means from the time the consumer became aware of the overcharging and lodged a refund claim: the consumer cannot be penalised for something they were not aware of.”
I put that to Netstar in raising Kadodia’s case.
Responding, marketing general manager Dean Andrews said the fact that Kadodia had taken two Netstar subscriptions out – one in his personal capacity and the other in a business capacity – added to the “complexity” of the case.
“Given this, the client should have exercised reasonable care to identify such an issue sooner either in his personal capacity or through his business’ accountant, which the Prescription Act does make provision for,” he said. That it does.
“In such cases, we understand that a company’s obligation is to refund up to three years and this process was followed by our team.
“However, we value Mr Kadodia as a Netstar customer, and recognising the years he has been with us, we have agreed to process the full credit of R7,000.”
Yet another reason to check your bank statement very carefully every month.