Legal jargon sets up mess

THERE are thousands of consumers whose salaries have been garnished more than once for the same debt, but are unable to resolve the problem.

THERE are thousands of consumers whose salaries have been garnished more than once for the same debt, but are unable to resolve the problem.

This is because of the confusing and ambiguous attachment orders sent to employers by lawyers .

But one employee, Kgomotso Makati, has refused to repay the same debt after his salary was garnished twice.

A furious Makati stormed into the offices of Consumer Line two weeks ago accusing Motlanthe Incorporate of resuscitating a debt he had paid off.

At the time he did not realise that it was his salary department that did not understand the wording of the garnishee order sent to them or that they were just plain inept and couldn't careless when reinstating the order.

Makati, who was determined not to repay the same debt to the same attorneys in his lifetime, praisedConsumer Line when he was told it was in fact his salary department that had erred in re-instating a garnishee order against his salary.

The attorneys had nothing to do with the employer's failure to understand the emolument attachment order sent to them.

It was just the way the attorneys had written their garnishee order that had confused Makati's employer.

Instead of paying only the R21 balance, the employer reinstated the debt of R7515 Makati had already paid last year.

Had Makati's employer paid the R21 balance in September last year he would not have been served with a further reminder with added legal costs.

Makati's salary was attached in 2007 because he had a debt he could not repay as expected.

Motlanthe Incorporate, who were acting on behalf of Joshua Doore, served Makati with an emolument attachment order of R7515, which was deducted from his salary in monthly installments of R600 until September last year.

There was a balance of R21 that his employer overlooked and did not pay over to the attorneys' account to Makati's detriment.

The attorneys then sent another garnishee order demanding the balance, sheriff's fees amounting to R120 plus attorneys' fees.

The total amount due was R2013.

On receipt of the further emolument attachment order, Makati's employer did not read it. If they did, they did not understand it and just reinstated the whole debt of R7515.

It was after Consumer Line's intervention that his salary department rectified the error.

"I was not going to add another number to the statistics of people who for the rest of their lives have to repay the same debt to one attorney without raising a finger," said Makati.

Makati also advised consumers whose salaries have been garnished to demand copies of garnishee orders from their employers so that "they can read and understand why their salaries are continuously attached by the same attorneys, even after paying off the debts".

"It could be that their salary departments are just happy to get the percentage they are entitled to for garnishing employees' salaries," Makati said.

Makati's second garnishee order reminded his salary department that there was a balance of R21 that he had not paid on the initial debt.

It was in the way that the attorneys wrote the letter that confused Makati's salary department. It was after Motlanthe had simplified communication to Consumer Line that Makati's salary department agreed to correct the garnishee order against his salary.

Sam Tebele, of the Gauteng Offices of Consumer Affairs, said the new Consumer Protection Act demanded that communication to consumers must be simplified to avoid confusion and misunderstanding of the messages.

"Communication to indebted consumers and their salary departments must be clear, simple and without ambiguity to avoid any confusion and misunderstanding," Tebele said.

He said once the Act is up and running most salary departments would also not be able to revive paid-up debts.

l The letter Motlanthe wrote to Consumer Line was much clearer, to the point and without any frills as compared to the one they wrote to Makati's employer.

All they wanted was the balance of R21 plus their legal fees, but the legalese confused the employer.