The National Credit Act (NCA) provides you with the right to dispute any factually incorrect credit information on your credit report generated by a credit bureau and to have this information corrected.

By Annelene Dippenaar, chief legal and compliance officer at Experian Africa

To dispute the information on your credit report, the first step is getting a copy of your report. South African credit bureaus are required to offer one free credit report to consumers a year. Some bureaus, like Experian, offer unlimited free full credit reports.

Next, consumers should check what information is on their report. If there is any incorrect information, they should contact the bureaus directly to dispute that information. When contacting a bureau, the consumer should supply the following documentation:

* Copy of their ID document or passport if a foreign national;

* Proof of address (not older than three months); and

* Any supporting documentation of their dispute (like an account, statement, settlement letter, etc.)

The credit bureau will then investigate the dispute with the data provider; this investigation process can take up to 20 business days.

During this time, the credit bureau will contact the supplier of the disputed data for further information and evidence relating to the data. The information being disputed will be masked from display on the consumer’s credit report and a notice that data on the report is being disputed will be displayed on the credit report during the investigation period.

If, at the end of the 20 day period, the bureau does not receive credible evidence from the data supplier to support the data, the dispute will be resolved in the consumer’s favour and the other registered credit bureaus will be notified of the outcome, and they will also update the data on your profile held by them.

It’s important to note that credit bureaus will usually not process account updates (which is different to a dispute) that have occurred in the last 2 months. Payments made may sometimes not reflect on a credit report until the data supplier has sent the data to the bureau.

If you are not happy with the final outcome of your dispute, you are able to contact the credit ombudsman or the NCR.

Consumers don’t need to pay anyone to change their credit reports

All credit bureaus are required to offer a free credit information dispute process. Why pay one of the many “credit clearing companies” that charge money for doing something that you could do for free?

In fact, in South Africa, charging consumers an upfront fee to “fix” credit reports is illegal as per the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) and National Credit Act (NCA).

Consumers should be careful of companies claiming to improve credit scores and fix credit reports overnight, especially if charging an upfront fee. These types of providers can often be found on popular classifieds websites and social media, or even distributing fliers in your area or placing ads in local papers.

It’s important to note that even if a credit repair agent helps you fix your credit report, they would need to follow the same disputes process, supply the same documentation, and take the same amount of time – there is no special process for credit repair agencies. They cannot change your credit profile, the information can only be changed through the dispute process.

Also, a credit repair agency is not able to change your score at the credit bureau. Only you affect your credit score by paying your full instalments on time, using credit responsibly, and by ensuring the data on your report is accurate and up to date (through logging a dispute if you believe there is incorrect information on your credit report).