There has been a sharp increase in the number of deeply indebted consumers seeking help in the form of debt review, following the introduction of toll fees.
This is according to Neil Roets, CEO of debt management firm, Debt Rescue, who said the last two weeks had seen nearly double the number of clients seeking help, compared to the same period last year.
The controversial Gauteng e-toll system went live on 3 December.
“In the majority of cases it was mounting toll fees and the aggressive attitude of Sanral’s collections department that scared consumers into seeking help,” Roets said.
“Many of the new clients we signed up were already stretched to the limit because of the rapid increase in prices of everything from food to fuel and the toll fees were the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Roets disputed Sanral’s claim that the tolls would have little impact on consumers.
In November, Tembakazi Mnyaka, chairman of SA National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral), said that road users would be “hugely” surprised by the “relatively insignificant” effect e-tolling will have on their pockets.
“Some of our new clients are small business people who operate vans and trucks which are tolled at much higher rates than passenger vehicles. Many consumers are facing ruin and their only option to keep the sheriff from attaching their homes and moveable goods is to go under debt review,” Roets said.
Roets questioned the tactics used by Sanral which includes threatening emails and numerous telephone calls.
“Sanral has also gone out of its way to try and create the impression that not paying tolls the moment they snap their fingers is a criminal offence. This is absolutely not the case and consumers should treat a toll fine in exactly the same way that they handle any other traffic offence,” Roets said.
The financial services practitioner said the legal process to place clients under debt review required the debt counsellor to cut their expenses to the bone in order to settle their outstanding debts with creditors.
“These consumers do not have any spare cash whatsoever. They are already scraping the bottom of the barrel.”
“If they are sufficiently intimidated by Sanral’s bully-boy tactics and pay outstanding fees that we now know may be incorrect because of the many vehicles using fraudulent number plates or overstated because of mismanagement and they miss a single payment to their creditors, they automatically lose the protection afforded to them by debt review,” Roets said.
Economist Mike Schüssler recently warned that heavily indebted consumers who go against getting an e-tag might end up in a ‘debt trap’ as the bills start to pile up.