The extent of the hardship
In particular, the testimonies from SASSA beneficiaries, and our partner advice offices supporting them, made officials and others in attendance realise the extent of the hardship and unnecessary costs they have had to incur in trying to find resolution. The devastating impact that these debit deductions on individuals, households and communities became shockingly clear to all of us present. Yet, the formal institutions for recourse, in particular the help lines and call centres of SASSA and Net1/CPS, have been unacceptably inept and inadequate.
One particular case of Mrs. G, that was presented at the meeting, reflects a situation that is offensive, heartbreaking and unacceptable. Mrs. G, a pensioner receiving a State Old Age Pension, lives in Makwassie, a small, rural, grain-producing town, 270 kms south of Johannesburg. She travelled all the way to our meeting to tell us about her challenge. Mrs. G realized in November 2013 that amounts of between R60 and R99 per month had been deducted from her account between November 2013 and January 2014. She was also informed of an advance request for February 2014. These were airtime advances for a cell phone number that she has never used and has no knowledge of. To rectify this error, she sought assistance from the Lebaleng Community Advice Office in her town.
Community Advice Offices extend assistance
They went to the local SASSA office to query the matter. A SASSA North West official whose name is known to us, falsely blamed Mrs. G’s relatives that made this request (for airtime), and made no further attempt to resolve her query. Mrs. G was then further assisted by the Advice Office to seek recourse from Cash Paymaster Services via their helpline, 0800 600 160. Mrs. G and her support team informed CPS that she does not own a cell phone, never gave any cell phone number and confirmed that, as far as she was aware, none of her relatives had her details. Several conversations were held with identified CPS helpline staff to resolve her query. While CPS could furnish the cell phone number credited by Mrs G’s airtime deductions they claimed they could not trace the name of the person associated with the phone number. Again, Mrs. G has to overcome another obstacle. Mrs G case remains unresolved, with government and NET 1 officials unclear on the direction forward. Sharing her story during the meeting made her realise that she is not alone.
Debit Deductions are endemic
Mrs. G’s challenge represents one of several types of queries. Some of the deductions queried by SASSA beneficiaries are for loans about which they know nothing. Beneficiaries query the terms, interest rate charged, overpayments and unknown additional charges. Some deductions are for electricity advance purchases, airtime, or are for other financial products and services that are being sold through direct marketing.
The Black Sash and its partners are aware of many similar cases all across South Africa, and together with the Legal Resources Centre, the documented cases we have thus far number in the hundreds and are from many parts of South Africa. This is the tip of the iceberg and there are many more that have not been reported. SASSA has confirmed that deductions are endemic.
These include other people in the same district as Mrs. G, people in the Bojanala District of the North West, as well as the Sedibeng District and Johannesburg Metro. Testimonies heard at the meeting were from Bonjanala District in the North West, Sedibeng District and the Johannesburg Metro in Gauteng, Adelaide in the Eastern Cape and Uppington in the Northern Cape. These testimonies revealed tensions and social problems caused by these deductions. People are becoming ill, while already poor and struggling households have had to share their limited resources with destitute families and neighbours affected by this crisis. Often the affected SASSA beneficiaries reside far from government service points resulting in them having to incur huge transport costs.
The Black Sash and Campaign partners find these deductions from social grants beneficiaries unacceptable, illegal and immoral. Despite lenders and service providers often breaking the law, government and its outsourced service provider CPS/NET 1they often assume and infer that beneficiaries have no right to recourse.
Campaign demands agreed to at the meeting include:
- The Minister of Social Development and SASSA should immediately make arrangements to in-source the social assistance grants. We believe this is necessary to protect government’s social security mandate and ensure the effective and secure implementation of legislation, policies and systems. This includes fast tracking the implementation of the Inter-Ministerial Committee’s recommendation to develop a SASSA payment system independent of external service providers before the deadline of 2015 and to report publicly on plans and steps taken in this regard.
- As a short term measure, we request of the South African Reserve Bank , which has the powers to act in the public interest, to issue a written directive in terms of Section 12 of the National Payment Systems Act (1998), to stop the Payment Association of South Africa (PASA), BankServ and Grindrod from making debits from the bank accounts into which social grants are paid.
- The Minister of Social Development should intervene decisively to stop the escalation of unauthorised, undocumented and unlawful deductions from bank accounts of social grant beneficiaries.
- The Minister of Social Development should amend the Social Assistance Act to criminalise the use of social assistance grants as collateral by lenders and to stop the sale of credit and other products using the bank accounts of grant beneficiaries. Simultaneously we demand that Parliament amends the National Credit Act and related legislation so that social assistance grants are not considered as collateral for credit.
- The Minister of Social Development, SASSA and third parties should be held responsible for providing recourse and compensation for these debit deductions.
- The Minister of Social Development should establish the long overdue Inspectorate for Social Assistance as intended by the Social Assistance Act of 2003 to “ensure the maintenance of the integrity of the social assistance framework and system” and to conduct appropriate investigations.
We remain committed to finding answers and having the State and CPS give an account for the crisis and address our demands!
PASA – The association responsible for managing payment systems in South Africa.
BankServAfrica - is a clearing house company responsible for among other, interbank switching, clearing and settlement services to the South African banking sector and to banks in Africa.
Grindrod Bank - A new biometric grant payment disbursement system commenced in March 2012. Prior to this, it required the re-registration of SASSA social grant beneficiaries, in order to be issued with new Debit MasterCard cards with biometric functionality. These were by issued byGrindrod Bank in association with SASSA and Net1 UEPSTechnologies (Net1).