A local human rights group has called on the Minister of Social Development, the Department of Social Development and the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) to account for the unauthorised, undocumented and illegal debit deductions from the bank accounts of social grantees by outsourced contractor, Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) and holding company NET 1 since the introduction of the biometric system in 2012.
As early as 2011, the Black Sash and partners began to uncover violations of Norms and Standards at SASSA Paypoints and found increasing evidence of irregular, unauthorised and undocumented third party debit deductions from SASSA beneficiaries’ bank accounts. In 2012, largely as a result of the Service Level Agreement between the SASSA and CPS/Net1, debit deductions of social grants increased drastically. On Thursday, Black Sash said CPS’s recourse systems remains ineffective, adding additional burden and cost on social grant beneficiaries.
“The Stop SASSA-CPS Debits Campaign launched in 2013 by the Black Sash and supported by various civil society partners, draws attention to the crisis of debit deductions from social assistance grants. For a period of a year, we registered concerns with government using information generated from desperate calls to the Black Sash Helpline, the Legal Resources Centre, community advice offices and CBOs across South Africa. Whilst we are encouraged by government’s acknowledgement that things are seriously wrong – actions to remedy the crisis are inadequate and slow,” said Black Sash spokesperson Elroy Paulus.
Correspondence in November 2013 and an open letter dated 6 January 2014 to the Department of Social Development, SASSA, the South African Reserve Bank and related government departments as well as public entities requested an urgent meeting. On Thursday, another meeting was held at Khotso House, Johannesburg with SASSA beneficiaries, advice offices and other CBO partners. The objective was to understand the impact of these deductions on individuals, households and communities.
Paulus said Black Sash was calling on the Minister of Social Development to intervene decisively to “stop the escalation of unauthorised, undocumented and unlawful deductions” from bank accounts of social grant beneficiaries.
“The Minister of Social Development must amend the Social Assistance Act criminalising the use of social assistance grants as collateral by lenders and to stop the sale of credit and other products. Parliament amends the National Credit Act and related legislation so that social assistance grants are not considered as income, as intended by the legislation,” he said.
“The Minister of Social Development and SASSA should immediately in-source the social assistance grants to protect government’s social security mandate and ensure the effective and secure implementation of legislation, policies and systems. Fast track 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 report publicly on plans and steps taken in this regard.”
Social Assistance, as enshrined in Section 27 of our Constitution, provides a vital income for millions of South African impoverished households, unable to provide for their own needs and those of dependents. The public purse pays social grants to the elderly, the disabled, as well as children, who are found through a stringent means test to be in real financial need. Black Sash wants the Minister of Social Development, SASSA and third parties to be held responsible for providing recourse and compensation for these debit deductions. VOC