The use of an SMS that directs Gauteng e-toll users to pay outstanding fees is illegal, said the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) on Wednesday.
Outa, which changed its name from Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance recently, said it needed the public to “register their dissent” so that it can begin “a mass action campaign to put a halt to Sanral’s intimidating messages”.
The roads agency has been trying to encourage user compliance ever since Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a revised e-toll payment plan to appease road users last year.
That was the carrot.
Now Sanral appears to be using its stick, by sending road users this message: “We have noted your refusal to pay your outstanding e-toll balance. Your vehicle details are being submitted for listing, and legal action will commence with costs incurred. Call 087 353 1490 Ref …”
Sanral announced its once-off discount for road users on 1 November 2015, but warned the offer is only valid until the end of April 2016. Sanral spokesman Vusi Mona said users with outstanding e-toll debt incurred from 3 December 2013 to 31 August 2015 must settle their accounts, or make payment arrangements.
“This is not an amnesty or a debt write-off. It is a special discount offered to road users in terms of the new dispensation. Road users can contact the dedicated toll free number 087 353 1490 or send an SMS to 43360 with their ID number to find out how much they owe,” said Mona.
The number quoted in November 2015 is the same one used in the SMS.
Following on from a tip-off, Outa conducted an investigation, and determined that although the call says it is being routed to the Sanral violations centre, it actually is “being rerouted to a private collection agency ITC Business Administrators, whose employees appear to have been instructed to misrepresent the nature of their employment”.
Outa believes this is illegal because the call centre agent taking the calls at the number listed “indicated that they are employed by Sanral, when in actual fact, they are employed by ITC Business Administrators, [which is] a private registered debt collection agent acting on behalf of Sanral”.
Outa said that “each agent questioned is actually registered as a debt collector employed by debt collection agency ITC Business Administrators”.
“The calls are all answered as ‘Sanral violations centre’, which strictly speaking they aren’t,” it said. “What makes matters worse, is that these SMS messages contain a direct threat of definite (“will”) legal action.
“Both of the above actions are in contravention of rule 5.3(b) of the Debt Collectors Code of Conduct,” it said.
This code reads: “In collecting or attempting to collect a claim a debt collector shall not: misrepresent the true nature of his or her business, or threaten to institute legal proceedings, whether civil or criminal, if there is no intention to carry out such a threat.
“Unless Sanral are prepared to follow through with this threat, they may not send these messages,” said Ivan Herselman, director of legal affairs at Outa.
“The minister of transport is on record in July 2014 saying that criminal action cannot proceed against e-toll defaulters,” he said.
“In addition, the regulatory environment is not in place to enable or enforce non-payment of e-tolls through legal action. This is gross misconduct as per the Debt Collection Act and its regulations.”
Mona said in November that the best option for road users is still to register for e-tags and benefit from the reduced tariff and a monthly maximum that has been cut in half from R450/month to only R225, for light vehicles, since the beginning of July.