BE INFORMED and stay afloat.

BE INFORMED and stay afloat.

The National Credit Regulator (NCR), as part of promoting public awareness and as part of celebrating World Consumer Rights Month, has embarked on road shows, radio programmes, exhibitions and workshops in conjunction with other stakeholders.

Today, March 15, is celebrated internationally as World Consumer Rights Day.

In South Africa, March is consumer rights month. The Consumer Protection Forum, which comprises of the NCR, nine provincial consumer affairs directorates, the office of the credit ombuds, the Council for Medical Aid Schemes (CMS) and the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa), have jointly embarked on programmes to educate consumers.

The international theme this year is "Our money, our rights".

Peter Setou, senior manager: Education & Strategy at the NCR, said the international theme presents a valuable opportunity for stakeholders to join forces and educate consumers on money matters.

"Consumers who are empowered with information on how to handle their finances can easily deal with financial difficulties," said Setou.

He said as at September 2009, nearly 45 percent of South Africa's 18million credit-active consumers had impaired records. An impaired record is a record on which any of the accounts are either classified as three or more payments in arrears, or which has an "adverse listing", or that reflects a judgment or administration order, he said.

"Debt-counselling applications have risen to more than 150000. The tough economic conditions over the past year have severely affected many South Africans," said Setou.

"Many people are faced with enormous financial pressures and most do not know how to handle their financial obligations. Our education campaigns are geared at encouraging consumers to be more proactive and contact their credit providers should they not be able to fulfill their repayments," said Setou.

"We have also appealed to credit providers to assist consumers to re-arrange their repayment to affordable levels," he said.

"If consumers can't afford their repayments, the first step is not to panic, but to contact their credit providers and make arrangements based on their current income and affordability."

Setou advised consumers not to ignore letters of demand or final notice, but to attend to them immediately.

"Retrenched consumers must also inform all credit providers and establish if they have credit life insurance included in their credit agreements. This is cover payable in the event of a consumer's death, disability, terminal illness, unemployment or other insurable risks that may prevent consumers to meet their obligations under a credit agreement."

He also encouraged consumers to be cautious with their retrenchment packages.

"Where the package is sufficient, consumers should list priority debts, determine how the package can be used in part to settle some debts or reduce them," Setou said

He said consumers should never skip mortgage payments as they can lose their houses.