According to the Prescription Act, a debt is deemed to be prescribed if it has been three years since your last payment and in three years you have not acknowledged the debt in any way – and neither has the creditor summonsed you for it.

In many cases, the debt has been written off by the initial credit provider and bought for virtually nothing by debt collectors.

Unfortunately, the onus is placed on the debtor to know their debt is prescribed and use it as their defence when the debt collector comes calling. So basically, the debt collector knows the debt is prescribed, but he/she will still call you, in the hope that you are unaware of this.

If no payment has been made to an account for 3 years and no summons has been issued for that debt within the last three years – then that debt is prescribed and you are not legally bound to repay that debt.

Now we all know how aggressive and intimidating debt collectors can be, but it is important to know that, it does not matter if they tell you that they are from the CIA or the FBI, it doesn’t matter if they threaten you with the loss of your possessions or blacklisting, if a debt is prescribed – you DO NOT HAVE TO PAY IT!

If a debt collector purses you even though you have told them of the prescription, ask them to supply you with a full statement of your account, including all payments made – and to clearly show where you have made a payment in the last three years. As a consumer, you have the right to, a detailed statement when you request it.

Make sure that you DO NOT make an arrangement to pay an old debt – because this revokes the prescription – even if the arrangement to pay is done verbally.

A bond account, municipal accounts, money owed to SARS and your TV licence – cannot become prescribed debt. However, retail accounts, credit cards, Telkom accounts, personal loans, gym memberships, cell-phone accounts, money owed on vehicle finance, ALL become prescribed after no payment or summons issued within three years.