What does prescription mean?

  • Prescription is when a debt is extinguished after a period of time.
  • South Africa has different laws which specify prescription periods, for example, the Prescription Act says that contractual and delinquent debts extinguish after three years from the date when it became payable (due).

What are the advantages of a debt that prescribed?

  • A person who is indebted (“debtor”) to another person (“creditor”) will not be liable to pay such debt after a certain period of time has passed.
  • This means that the creditor may not institute legal action against the debtor for such a debt.

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When does a prescription period start to run?

  • As soon as the debt is due. A debt is due once the creditor can identify the debtor and the facts from which the debt arose.
  • If the debtor prevents the creditor from gaining knowledge of the debt (excluding debts arising from contracts), prescription runs from when the creditor gains knowledge of the existence of the debt.
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When will a prescription period be interrupted?

  • The running of prescription is interrupted by:
    • an acknowledgment of debt by a debtor, for example, if a debtor pays part of his/her debt to the creditor before prescription; or
    • a summons served by the creditor on the debtor in order to claim payment of the debt due.
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