Sunday 25 February 2024

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

I spent someone else's money

Hello Mr Richard. Sometimes last year my bank sent P4,000 into my account without reason. I called them frequently asking them about the money but they told me its my money. I waited for 3 days without waiting for them to talk to me again but they failed. I used money on the fifth day. In May I received a call from them telling me the money wasn't for me and I have to come to their office. They told me I must pay the money back. I told them that I don't have money but they told me to pay money via instalment.

I managed to pay 800, 350, 1,000 but it still reflects that I'm owing them 4,000 in my account. What can I do?

The first thing you should do is to ask the bank why they haven't updated your account correctly to reflect the payments you've made towards the debt. That's a simple thing for them to do and they're negligent for not doing that already.

The second thing you can do is think carefully about how this situation happened. You know now, and you knew then, that the money that was paid into your account wasn't yours. I know it wasn't your fault and I know the bank told it was yours, but you knew that wasn't true when you spent it.

The best thing you can do is keep talking to the bank and repaying the money you took. They've already agreed to accept the money in instalments so it's incredibly important that you keep to that agreement.

The lesson from this is never to spend money you know doesn't belong to you. If money ever does appear in your account that you weren't expecting, tell the bank immediately and do NOT spend it.

Should he be in prison?

In August last year, a judgement in Francistown High Court was given that my brother can use his pension to pay his debt to his bank. He took all the required documents to the pension administrators and up to now they have not paid the bank. The only time they gave him updates is when he either called or when we went to the office on his behalf to follow up since he is in Francistown and unemployed.

As I am talking to you now, he got arrested by deputy sheriffs of the same bank on Monday as the pension administrator has not made a payment to the bank. He will be at Francistown State Prison until his debt is paid.

Is this a fair treatment from people who have kept his pension money and have not been able to assist him on time when he needed them the most?

No, this certainly is not fair. In fact, this is a disgrace.

I know your brother owes money to his bank, but that isn't the real problem. The bank should know by now that your brother has the money to pay his debt to them, just not now. They know that his pension will pay off the debt and it's not his fault that the administrators have taken their time. So they should have sat down with him and asked him to sign some sort of agreement that when the pension pays out they'll get their money. And then they need to be a little more patient.

We spoke to senior managers at both the bank and the pension administrators when we heard this and, to their credit, they were just as shocked about what had happened. They both recognized that they had failed badly. The pension administrators have assured us that they'll get the pension process done as quickly as possible and they also promised an investigation into why the process took so long that it led to their client spending time in prison. The bank told us they'd make sure your brother was set free as soon as possible.

However, two days later, he's still in prison. You can find out if he's released in the Consumer Watchdog Facebook group. One final word on civil imprisonment for debt. This system is being over-used and often punishes the wrong people. Of course there are some people who deserve it, those who willingly, deliberately avoid paying their debts. They deserve to face the consequences. But very often it's the wrong people who are punished this way, people like your brother. We need a new approach.

Update: The guy was finally released a few days later. He's now back home, recovering from a traumatic experience he didn't deserve. Both companies should be ashamed of how long they took to sort this matter out. 

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