Know when your debt prescribes

As a general rule, prescription occurs when a debtor’s liability to pay a specific debt is extinguished as a result of the passing of a prescribed time period. As soon as a debt prescribes, a debtor is no longer under any obligation to pay it.

It is still legal for the creditor to demand payment or even sue for a prescribed debt. The debtor will then, however, be able to raise the defence of prescription. It is for this reason, that debtors need to be aware of prescription – to protect themselves from debts they are no longer liable for. On the other hand, creditors must also be cognizant to pursue claims timeously.

The Prescription Act prescribes the time periods after which specific debts prescribe. Most civil claims prescribe after 3 years. There are however various exceptions hereto, but only a few is listed below:

  • Debts relating to negotiable instruments prescribe after 6 years.
  • Judgment debts, debts secured by mortgaged bonds and debts owed to the state, for example, prescribe after 30 years.

When does prescription start to run?

The abovementioned prescriptive periods start to run as soon as the debt is due. When the debt is “due” will depend on when the identity of the debtor is known and when the facts from which the debt arises are known to the claimant. Importantly, prescription will start running irrespective of whether the creditor is aware of his/her rights.

Can the prescriptive time period be delayed?

The prescription period can be delayed in certain circumstances in terms of the Prescription Act. A few examples include when the debtor is outside of South Africa, the creditor is a minor, or the debt is the object of a dispute in arbitration. Such a restriction will stop on, after, or within one year before the normal prescription period will end. If the latter happens, one year will be added after the date on which the restriction stopped.

The running of prescription will be interrupted by an acknowledgement of debt by the debtor and/or a summons being served by the creditor on the debtor, claiming performance in terms of the debt.

An acknowledgement of debt can take various forms and may be written or verbal. It is however advisable that creditors should reduce acknowledgements of debt to writing, because of its evidentiary value.

Conclusion

A debtor should not be burdened by a debt indefinity, especially since costs and interest will be added to the outstanding debt.

A creditor also benefits from the sense of urgency created by prescription, in that the recovery of his/her debt will be quicker.

Whether a debt is due by you or owed to you, it would be advisable to consult with your attorney to determine the best way forward.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

Can I obtain financing if I don’t own immovable property as security?

The article gives a brief overview of what a notarial bond is, the requirements that need to be complied with to register a notarial bond and give tips regarding clauses that will prove to be useful in a notarial bond. It also deals with the situation where a debtor disposes of an asset listed in a notarial bond, contrary to the provisions thereof.

 

A very useful way of obtaining financing to start a new business, is to register a notarial bond over the movable property belonging to the business. For instance, notarial bonds are regularly utilised in transport companies – a notarial bond is registered over the vehicles forming the core of the business, but the vehicles do not need to be in the physical possession of the creditor, thus the business can fully operate.

 

What is a notarial bond?

 

A notarial bond is a general or special bond where the movable assets of a debtor are used as security for a debt. In terms of the notarial bond, the debtor undertakes to pay his debt towards the creditor, failing which the creditor will be entitled to sell these movable assets and to utilise the proceeds thereof to satisfy his claim against the debtor. There are 2 types of notarial bonds:

  • General notarial bond: all the movable assets on the debtor’s property serves as security for the debtor’s debt.

  • Special notarial bond: specific movable assets identified in the bond will serve as security for the debt.

     

How does a notarial bond differ from a pledge?

 

A pledge requires the delivery of the movable asset pledged. A notarial bond does not require the delivery of the movable assets identified in the bond, but in terms of section 1(1) of the Security by Means of Movable Property Act 57 of 1993, the movable property listed in the notarial bond will be deemed to have been pledged to the creditor as effectually as if it had been delivered to the creditor. The fact that the creditor is deemed to be in possession of the property thus places him on equal footing with that of a pledgee. The creditor, upon registration of the notarial bond in the deeds registry, acquires a real right of security in the movable property specified in the bond.

 

Requirements:

 

  1. Existence of a principal debt;

  2. Assets which serve as security must be movable, including corporeal and incorporeal assets.

     

Corporeal assets include furniture, vehicles, the goods of a business, animals and the future offspring of animals and stock in trade.

 

Incorporeal assets include an unregistered long-term lease of immovable property, a short-term lease of immovable property, a liquor license, a water use license, site permit, shares in a company, goodwill of a business, book debts etc.

 

What if more than one creditor uses the same asset as security for their debt?

 

A bond which was registered first enjoys priority over a bond registered thereafter.

 

Important clause to insert in the bond:

 

To prevent the debtor from disposing of assets which serve as security in terms of the notarial bond, a clause should be inserted disallowing the debtor to sell, alienate, dispose of, transfer or permit the removal of the asset from the debtor’s place of residence or place where he carries on business, without the prior written consent of the creditor.

 

What happens if a debtor disposes of the asset identified in the notarial bond, contrary to the stipulations in the notarial bond?

 

The creditor will be able to apply for provisional sentence summons against the debtor, provided that the notarial deed meets the requirement of being a liquid document. A liquid document is a document which indicates, without having to consult extrinsic evidence, an acknowledgement of debt, of which the amount is easily determinable. A notarial bond will in general qualify as being a liquid document.

 

A creditor will also be able to claim back an asset which has been sold, contrary to the provisions of the notarial bond, to a bona fide third party, from such third party. The reason for that is the fact that a notarial bond, which has been registered in the Deeds Registry, creates a real right, which is a right that attaches to property, rather than a person.

 

It is not easy to obtain credit in the economic environment in which our country currently finds itself. However, there are ways to get your business off the ground and registering a notarial bond over the property of your business is a recognised method of securing your business’ debt. If notarial bonds can be utilised more frequently, it can help a lot of new businesses get the financing they need to buy equipment, vehicles and machinery necessary for the operation of the business.

 

Reference List:

 

  • Explanatory Notes Part 1: Course in Notarial Practice, compiled by Gawie Le Roux, Erinda Frantzen and Ilse Pretorius
  • The South African Notary, sixth edition, M J Lowe, M O Dale, A De Kock, S L Froneman, A J G Lang

 

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

Bad debts and VAT

While there is currently a focus on the income tax considerations of bad and doubtful debts (given that National Treasury has proposed changes to section 11(j) of the Income Tax Act[1] to allow for an allowance of 25% of impairments in respect of doubtful debts), the Value Added Tax (VAT) aspect of bad debts is often overlooked.

 

Section 22 of the Value Added Tax Act[2] determines that a VAT vendor who accounts for VAT on the invoice basis may deduct input tax in respect of debts which have become irrecoverable and written off. To be able to claim the input tax deduction, three requirements should be met:

 

  1. There must have been a taxable supply for a consideration in money;
  2. The vendor must have already properly accounted for the output VAT on that supply; and
  3. The vendor must have written off the amount of the consideration that has become irrecoverable.

 

The first two requirements should be relatively easy to meet since they generally occur in the ordinary course of business. The final requirement may potentially be more difficult to substantiate.

 

The VAT Act does not provide any further guidance on what constitutes “irrecoverable” or “written off”. A similar hurdle is present in the Income Tax Act, that does not elaborate on what the meaning is of debt that has become “doubtful” and debt that has “become bad”. Arguably, the requirements in the VAT Act stating that the debt must be “written off”, goes a step further than debt that is merely “doubtful” or that has “become bad”. It is also not certain to what extent the South African Revenue Service could draw comparisons between how a taxpayer treated the same debt for income tax and VAT purposes. Taxpayers should, therefore, exercise caution when they attempt to claim the allowable input tax and ensure that the facts support a case for a debt that has been written off. The input tax that can be claimed is equal to the tax fraction (15/115) applied to the amount actually written off.

 

Importantly though, if a vendor has success in recovering a portion of the debt previously written off, this must again be accounted for as output tax. Taxpayers that form part of a group of companies should also note that if the debt has been written off between wholly-owned members, the additional input tax is not allowed.

 

[1] 58 of 1962 (the Income Tax Act)

[2] 89 of 1991 (the VAT Act)

 

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)