The portfolio committee on trade and industry proposed an amendment to the National Credit Act in order to provide debt relief to South Africans struggling with debts.

The Draft National Amendment Bill was published in the Government Gazzette on 24 November 2017 and has received much attention from different industries, including business, banking and government. Of concern is the possible effects the proposed amendment will have on these industries and how it will impact our economy.

In terms of the Bill, poor and low-income consumers who earn less than R7.500.00 per month and who have a total of not more than R50 000.00 of unsecured debts may apply, only once, to the National Credit Regulator (NCR) for debt intervention. This application is done by the consumer personally and is only for debts incurred up to 24 November 2017.

Once the consumer has made the application, the NCR will make a determination of whether the applicant requires the intervention or not. If the NCR is of the view that the applicant does require the assistance, a member of the National Credit Tribunal can suspend all credit agreements in part or in full. Further, if it appears that the financial situation of the consumer is not improving, the consumer can have his debts written off.

In terms of the World Bank report, South Africans are the world’s ‘biggest borrowers’ and cannot manage their debts responsibly. About half of credit-active consumers have impaired records. With so many people struggling with debts and qualifying for debt intervention in terms of the Bill, it raises concerns about the impact this will have for businesses and credit providers who followed the right procedures in granting credit.

Essentially what the Bill says is that if you once bought a Television set and a washing machine under credit when you could afford it but later lost your job or got more responsibilities, you can have your debts under those credit agreements extinguished but still keep the goods purchased in terms of the agreement. This differs entirely from what the NCA seeks to achieve, which is promoting fair, competitive, sustainable, responsible, efficient, effective and accessible credit market and industry; and to protect consumers while balancing the rights of suppliers.

The Bill also has the potential of deterring credit providers from giving credit to low-income consumers as there is a risk of them being written-off. The effect of this is that we will have consumers who are denied access to credit even if they have maintained good credit records, purely on the basis of being low income earners.

Further concern is that the Bill will encourage irresponsible behaviour by consumers who will be under the belief that they can have their debts extinguished.

Although the Bill is supposed to provide hope for low-earning consumers who are struggling to pay off their debts, it will have far-reaching consequences especially for our economy. With the Bill being at its final stages, retailers should brace themselves for a possible further cut of debts owed to them.