Punish the parent not the child

Garry Hertzberg, practising attorney at Dewey Hertzberg levy and host of the Laws of Life with Garry Hertzberg on Cliffcentral.com writes:

A very disturbing piece of news made headlines a few weeks ago which did not sit well with me.

A family in Gauteng had the sheriff of the court arrive at their house to attach assets including a microwave, fridge and lounge suite, because the father had not paid his daughter’s public school fees and the school had gone to court to recover their money.

According to reports, the father said his business had fallen on hard times and he was struggling to make ends meet.

The Schools Act allows a parent to apply for an exemption from payment of school fees, which has the effect of school fees being written off. This applies if the parent passes certain criteria, the question being that if the fees are more than 10 per cent of the household income, a full exemption should be granted. Partial exemption is also a possibility.

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We know that a child may not be excluded or suspended from school activities for the non-payment of school fees, and that the school cannot withhold a report or transfer certificate, but imagine being a child and seeing the sheriff arrive at your house to attach goods because your dad hasn’t paid your school fees. It must be devastating and humiliating for the child.

The argument I have heard is that once a school starts legal action against a defaulting parent, the collection process is no longer in the hands of the school. This is wrong, a creditor always has the power to direct the manner in which they wish to recover or enforce a judgment.

Although a school is entitled to enforce a judgment by attaching goods, they should consider other means because it is the child that will suffer the indignity of seeing their microwave, fridge, and lounge suite being ripped out of the house by the sheriff because their parents can’t pay the school fees. The humiliation to the child has an impact that is far larger than the money that is recovered, and the school should have the compassion to look after the interests of the child which always comes first.

What do you think? Is the school justified in attaching and removing household assets to pay for school fees?  Tell us by posting on our timeline, Sandton Chronicle or tweet us @Sandton_News

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