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Monday Aug 27, 2012

Second threatening email from FNB sends property owner's stress levels soaring

In June, Personal Finance reported on the plight of distressed homeowner Mr R, whose house was attached by First National Bank (FNB) in spite of the fact that he was sticking to a repayment plan that he had negotiated with the bank.

Following questions from Personal Finance, FNB said it would reverse the judgment for what was "obviously an error", according to FNB's head of customer collections, Lynne Loizakos.

However, last week Mr R was informed yet again that FNB is proceeding against him. The latest communication is an email from Jan Kleynhans, chief executive of FNB Home Loans.

The email reads: "Dear [Mr R], Your home loan has now fallen so far behind that we were forced to institute legal action against you. Right now, the possibility of losing your most valuable asset is a reality, but just ignoring the problem won't make it go away ... [The] truth is, with just one call we can help you to fix the situation before any further steps are taken - whether it's a new payment arrangement, discussing a Quick Sell Plan or simply making your monthly payment."

The email also contains a punt for Debt Busters, a national firm of debt counsellors. "If your finances are spiralling out of control, we recommend speaking to Debt Busters. They'll help you to negotiate better rates or payment options with creditors."

Ironically, Mr R is in debt counselling and has been since 2009. He had the misfortune of signing up with debt counsellor Goodman Makhanya of Your Debt Helpline (YDH), which has since gone into liquidation and is being investigated by the National Credit Regulator.

YDH made a repayment proposal to Mr R's creditors and, to the best of his knowledge, his money was disbursed accordingly. But some time in 2010, Mr R received a call from FNB advising him that the bank was proceeding with legal action against him. It was then that he discovered that the repayment proposal drawn up by YDH was unacceptable to most of his creditors.

In November 2010, Mr R was referred by the regulator to a new debt counsellor, who has managed to reinstate most of his debts into debt review. His home loan has been excluded, because he had an arrangement with the bank.

Mr R is R39 000 in arrears and owes R220 000 on his home loan. He is in FNB's voluntary debt mediation programme, called Debt Cure.

Before receiving the latest email from FNB, Mr R had received documentation from FNB informing him that the judgment handed down in May had been rescinded.

In response to questions put to FNB this week, Kleynhans said there was "definitely no legal action being taken against" Mr R, who had "incorrectly received the communication about legal action".

Kleynhans says: "We have an automated internal communication process at Home Loans that alerts us to accounts that are in arrears, so that we can monitor and communicate with these customers. As Mr R is currently still in arrears, his name was still part of the communication list. Customers in varying stages of arrears are automatically communicated with on the status of their account and the necessary steps that need to be taken.

"Unfortunately, the arrears status on Mr R's account was not removed, as it was being monitored until the judgment was successfully rescinded, and he incorrectly received the communication about legal action. This has been rectified with immediate effect.

"We will use this as a learning for future email campaigns and put measures in place to identify these kinds of accounts differently so that this does not happen again."

Mr R says he is grateful that the matter appears to have been sorted out and that FNB has rescinded the judgment. But it has been at great personal cost, he says.

He has been fighting cancer since 2008 and says his health has suffered a serious setback.

"Due to the additional stress, my health has deteriorated considerably the past few months. I have lost 18 kilograms and the cancer has become more aggressive. According to the medical fraternity, stress is an accelerator for cancer - and I have unfortunately experienced that."

Mr R says some form of financial compensation from FNB would be appreciated, but "there is no way in which anyone can be compensated for such a drastic health setback".

Personal Finance


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