The announcement by the Minister of Social Development, Bathabile Dlamini, that the revised regulations to the Social Assistance Act will put an end to unauthorised deductions on social grant payouts, could not come sooner for the thousands of grant and pension recipients who fell victim to this scam.
Ms Dlamini also approved a recommendation for a South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) owned and controlled recourse system to be in place and for beneficiaries to be refunded – backdated to 2012.
Her announcement was made at a media briefing on Friday May 6, where she reported on progress made by the ministerial task team that was set up to deal with “curbing illegal, immoral and unauthorised deductions on social grants”.
Ms Dlamini said her department had been overwhelmed by the number of disputes.
“In February, alone, the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) got more than 40 000 queries,” she said. “It is very easy to take the money off social grant beneficiaries without proper consent and controls. However, it’s very difficult for them to get their money back,” Ms Dlamini said.
Some of the queries related to multiple unauthorised R5 advanced airtime deductions from cellphone companies. A Lansdowne couple, Adriaan and Erica Eyden, both 86, were among the many pensioners who felt the bite of these deductions. They each lost R232 from their pensions in April. And, although they reported the matter and were issued new cards and pin numbers, illegal deductions of R280 from Ms Eyden and R240 from Mr Eyden were again made with their May payouts.
These unauthorised deductions had had a knock-on effect, said Charlotte Tabisher, who runs the Hazendal Educare and is a member of the Hazendal Civic Organisation (Hazcor).
“We have six staff members who need to earn a living, and because many parents of the children at our educare centre receive social grants, when fraudulent deductions were made, they could not pay the fees. The educare depends on the fees and cannot operate without them. It is already tough for them to survive on the pensions they get. And we understand that. Sometimes we give seniors in the community rolls when we receive a donation. As Hazcor, we are unhappy with the situation. One lady has eight affidavits already and it seems like nothing is being done to help her.”
Ms Dlamini said the revised regulations “will put an end to the tide of unauthorised and unlawful deductions and ensure better control of Sections 21 and 26A which deals with the payment environment”.
She added: “We have been in consultation with the National Treasury, the South African Reserve Bank and the Financial Services Board and believe that there is an in-principle support for these regulations.
“The revised regulations firstly seek to clarify aspects of the existing regulations, which the industry has found ways to bypass.”
The revised regulations make it clear that a beneficiary must provide written permission to Sassa for a deduction, and where they cannot do this in person, Sassa will assist the beneficiary either through a home visit or other means in accordance to their policies.
The amendments also state that only insurers registered under the Long-Term Insurance Act of 1998 may offer funeral policies.
“The department aims to stop the illegal practice that victimises beneficiaries by ensuring that third parties cannot simply take someone’s grant,” Ms Dlamini added.
Irregularities can be reported by calling 0800 601011 or 0800 701701.