Prescription: Common Questions Answered

What Is A Prescription Period?

A prescription period is a time limit after which the opportunity to claim or the obligation to pay money expires. This period begins immediately after an incident occurs or a debt is incurred. A prescription period applies to legal claims and debts.

When does prescription begin to run?

Prescription commences as soon as the debt is due.

A debt cannot be deemed to be due until the creditor has knowledge of the identity of the debtor and of the facts from which the debt arises provided that a creditor is deemed to have such knowledge if he could have acquired it by exercising reasonable care.

If the debtor wilfully prevents the creditor from coming to know of the existence of the debt, prescription does not commence until the creditor becomes aware of the existence of the debt.

In what circumstances will prescription be delayed?

A prescription period is delayed if one of the following restrictions apply:
• creditor is a minor, insane, or under curatorship;
• debtor is outside South Africa;
• creditor and the debtor are married to each other;
• creditor and the debtor are partners and the debt arose from a partnership agreement;
• debtor is a member of the creditor, being a governing body an organisation or business;
• debt is the object of a dispute in an arbitration; or
• executor of a deceased estate has not yet been appointed.

When are the different prescription periods?

The table below gives a short summary of different prescription periods:

NOTE: If the debt has prescribed – you are NOT legally obligated to pay it.

When will a prescription period be interrupted?

In terms of Section 14 of the Prescription Act 68 of 1969, the running of prescription can be interrupted by:
• an express or tacit acknowledgement of liability by a debtor
• a debt repayment for that debt in the last three years by a debtor
• service of summons/ legal proceedings (on a debtor) in respect of that debt within a period of three years

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