| SOUTH AFRICA

Social grants: deductions are getting out of hand, says Black Sash

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Sassa’s solution isn’t working

Photo of pensioner with Black Sash activist
Pensioner Nora Samuels talks to Colleen Ryan of the Black Sash about deductions from her social grant. Photo: Barbara Maregele
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Manenberg pensioner Nora Samuels gets an old age grant of R1,420 a month. But last month she received only R905. She has no idea where the rest of the money went, and she says officials from the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) are not helping her.

Sassa implemented a new system to resolve and refund beneficiaries for unauthorised deductions in October last year. But five months later, thousands of beneficiaries are still wading through the system for help with deductions for airtime, loan repayments, electricity and even water.

According to the Black Sash, which has been monitoring the process, the “Dispute Resolution Mechanism” set up by Sassa is not being used by officials at the paypoint offices.

On 1 March, Black Sash collected 268 cases from eight different Sassa offices. In Delft the Black Sash collected a total of 50 unauthorised deductions, 54 in Athlone, 40 in Khayelitsha, 27 in both Stellenbosch and Lavender Hill, 25 in both Mitchell’s Plain and Paarl, and 20 in Lotus River.

GroundUp visited the pay points in Athlone and Portlands, Mitchell’s Plain. By 9am the queue of mostly elderly people was moving fairly quickly into the Dulcie September Civic Centre in Athlone. In Portlands, the queue of more than 200 people snaked around the Indoor Sports Centre by 11am. Beneficiaries complained about having to wait in line for hours before getting inside the gates.

“Please can you help me? I don’t know what to do any more,” said Samuels. The 66-year-old said officials inside were “unhelpful” and apathetic.

“I explained to them that I haven’t been getting my full grant for a few months. They told me there was nothing they could do and told me to go get an affidavit at the police station,” she said.

“I don’t understand where the rest of the money could’ve gone to. I can’t even pay my rent or buy enough food for the month,” Samuels said.

According to Sassa’s process, when beneficiaries lodge a complaint about deductions, officials must give them a dispute form and explain that the information on the form will be sent to Cash Paymaster Services, which manages the payment system, to investigate whether or not the beneficiary authorised the deduction. If not, the deduction is to be stopped within a month. Officials must report back to the beneficiary on whether or not they will be refunded.

Pensioner Maria Majied, 63, from Athlone, said she spent most of her grant last month trying to stop the deductions.

“I tried calling the helpline at the back of the card and waited about 20 minutes. This is the second time I had to travel to the Sassa offices to try and sort this out.

“I got R300 less last month. I withdraw my money from FNB, so I can’t see what the deductions are for. My husband and I are both pensioners and I need every cent we get,” she said.

Portlands resident Shafiek Japhta was among a group of beneficiaries edging towards the front gate. He had been standing in line for three hours. Japhta said he usually received R1,420 for disability grant, but for the past six months he had only been getting between R120 and R900.

“My parents are pensioners, so I can’t depend on them for money. They are also struggling. I need to get this problem sorted out,” he said.

In December 2015, Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini announced that all deductions from child grants would be stopped from 1 January.

But beneficiaries like Amelia Isaacs, from Bridgetown are still able to take out loans based on their grant income.

“I have two children and usually get R660 for child support,” said Isaacs. “This month I only got R450. I went to Moneyline in February to see if I can get a loan, but they told me that I already had a loan on my name,” she said.

Isaacs said she had taken out a R500 loan with Moneyline when she was cash-strapped last year, but had finished paying it back in September. But at the Moneyline offices she had been told that she had taken out a loan on 10 January.

“That’s impossible because I was working that day,” she said. “When I phoned Sassa they told me I need to sort the problem out with Moneyline.”

Beneficiaries wait for hours in long queues outside the temporary Sassa pay point at the Portlands Indoor Sports Centre in Mitchell’s Plain. Photo: Barbara Maregele

Nita Cloete said she had not received full payment of her child support grant since January.

“I have been getting nothing. I casual (work) now and then, so I really depend on that money. When I was here last month, they told me to go to the police station to get an affidavit. I’ll see what happens next month, but it can’t go on like this,” she said.

Black Sash regional manager Colleen Ryan, said it was “unacceptable” that beneficiaries were still being given the run around.

“The deductions are getting out of hand. The recourse system is completely ineffective.”

She said beneficiaries were being told at the Athlone office that they must go to the police station for affidavits. “That is not how the system is meant to work.”

Ryan said all the cases recorded by the Black Sash would be sent to the provincial Sassa offices and to Dlamini’s ministerial task team.

Sassa national spokesman Kgomoco Diseko said more than 50% of 8,000 disputes lodged since 2003 had been resolved.

“The dispute resolution mechanism enables cases to be investigated and if it is found that the beneficiary didn’t initiate or authorise the transaction, they get refunded.

“In some cases the problem is created when a beneficiary signs up for a funeral policy and later decides to withdraw. In most cases beneficiaries are given the run around by service providers and beneficiaries then turn to Sassa,” he said.

Diseko urged beneficiaries to keep their cards in a safe place.

“We are on Facebook and Twitter, beneficiaries can also contact our helpline on 0800 60 10 11.”

Amendment aims to stop illegal deductions

Today, 15 March, is the last day to comment on the amended Social Assistance Act of 2004.

The amendment is designed to make it “extremely difficult” for illegal deductions to be made from the grant beneficiary’s bank accounts.

The draft regulation states:

  • No deductions, other than for funeral policies, are to be made from bank accounts opened for beneficiaries for the payment of grants.
  • Beneficiaries will have to give written consent to one deduction made for funeral insurance. No deductions will be approved on grants for child support, foster child, care dependency, or any other temporary social grants.
  • All active deductions will continue for three months once the amended law is published. This is to give beneficiaries and financial services an opportunity to make arrangements for payment outside of Sassa’s system.
  • Affordability assessments must be done before any funeral policy can be taken out.

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TOPICS:  Government Social Grants