Pensioner’s burden of debt lifted

Cheree Long turned to me in desperation after getting the brush-off from Lewis Stores and Woolworths.

All the Bothasig woman wanted to do was help her long-time friend Hazel Addinall, 80, who lives in a retirement village in Lakeside.

She owed Woolworths about R4 000 for groceries she bought on her card, and Lewis Stores R895.94 for a fridge she purchased four years ago, and which she had been paying off for the past four years. Ms Addinall must pay R1 072 to settle the bill, said Ms Long

“I phoned Woolworths and Lewis Stores but they weren’t interested. They told me she accrued the debt so she must pay,” said Ms Long.

Ms Addinall gets a pension of R1 600: she pays R505 rent, R400 to Woolworths and between R100 and R200 a month to Lewis Stores.

She must also buy her own electricity, she gets 45 units for R100 from Eskom and the rest of the money is spent on food and travelling to the clinic.

“I would help her if I could but I am also on pension,” Ms Long said.

“Ms Addinall pays every month because she is petrified they will lock her up. A woman phoned her from Woolworths again to ask her when is she going to pay. But I have her card, I am so upset that I cannot help her pay. She has no one: no family, no children. That is why I am trying to help her. I hope they will not put a woman of 80 in jail,” Ms Long said.

Woolworths’ answer was to the point. A spokesperson said they have brought the account back under their control and refused to say whether they did an affordability test before they gave her a store card. And I asked twice.

My second email must have fallen in to a big black hole because it was just ignored.

Natalie Hendricks of Lewis Stores’ legal department said they had investigated Ms Addinall’s complaint. “Ms Addinall entered into a credit agreement with us on February 13 (2013) at our Wynberg branch for the purchase of a Kelvinator fridge. She agreed to settle the account over 36 months by paying an instalment of R289.60 a month.

“Before concluding the credit agreement, we conducted an affordability assessment which revealed that after deducting Mrs Addinall’s monthly expenses and debt commitments from her monthly income, she could afford the proposed instalment of R289.60

“As is our usual practice, at the time of concluding the transaction, Ms Addinall was handed a pre-agreement statement and quotation clearly setting out the full cost of credit, the credit agreement and all the other documentation relating to the transaction,” Ms Hendricks said.

“Furthermore, before finalising the deal, Ms Addinall was interviewed by the store manager. During this interview, the credit transaction and the total cost of credit would have been explained to her, making sure that she understood the implications of entering into the credit transaction with the company. During the interview, Ms Addinall would have been given the opportunity to reaffirm her income and expenditure, which she did,” Ms Hendricks said.

Ms Addinall has paid 30 instalments out of the 36 instalments due and is now over term. This has resulted in her account falling into arrears and additional interest accruing to her outstanding balance. Currently her outstanding balance is R895.94.

“We understand that consumers are struggling in the current economic climate, and we recognise Mrs Addinall’s efforts to keep up with her monthly payments. In light of this and as a gesture of goodwill towards our valued customer, we would like to assist her by writing off the outstanding balance and now regard her account as fully paid up. We have told this to Ms Long who is acting on her behalf,” Ms Hendricks said.

Ms Long said that Woolworths has also written off Ms Addinall’s debt.

There was a stony silence from Woolworths. It’s not as if I was asking for top secret information.

“Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Woolworths has written off her account and went to her flat and gave her some groceries.

“I would never have been able to do it without your help. Thank you sincerely for all you have done to help her,” Ms Long said.