Can a debt collector contact you and demand you pay a debt that has prescribed? The answer to that has never been more complicated or contentious in South Africa. Your debt is considered to be prescribed, in terms of the Prescription Act if, in the previous three years, you have not made any payment towards settling it, acknowledged owing the money in any way or agreed to pay it, or been summonsed in respect of it. Most, but not all, debts prescribe in three years. A 30-year prescription period applies to mortgage bonds, any debt arising as a result of a judgment, and any state-related debt, including traffic fines and TV licences. The collection of prescribed debts is a massive source of revenue for the debt-collection industry, much of it having been written off by the credit providers and sold to collectors for a few cents in the rand. They then inflate the original debt with interest and costs and attempt to collect from debtors for their own account. The Prescription Act's inte...

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