For Immediate Release: Wednesday, 1 September 2010
The Black Sash is disappointed that Parliament has passed a Bill in spite of our submission that it will compromise the rights of social grant applicants to an independent appeal. The Social Assistance Amendment Bill (passed by the National Council of Provinces yesterday) says SASSA (the South African Social Security Agency who administers social grants) will automatically and uniformly do an internal review of all unsuccessful applicants before they can appeal against their rejection.
Black Sash Advocacy Programme Manager Ratula Beukman insists this blanket internal review process is a big mistake. “Reconsideration or internal reviews only make sense when an application is rejected for technical or administrative reasons such as the failure to submit the correct documentation. But if applicants comply in these areas, they should be able to exercise their right to an independent appeal as guaranteed by the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act (PAJA),” argues Beukman.
The other major concern is that the Bill doesn’t provide clear timelines for the reconsideration or appeal process. The Black Sash has proposed that reconsideration take no longer than 30 days and that the ruling should be communicated to the applicant within 7 days. We have also suggested that the entire appeals process should not exceed 90 days.
The current social grant appeals backlog stands at about 60 000 cases nationally, with some applicants waiting more than two years for their appeal to be heard. The Black Sash and 24 disabled people from the Eastern Cape (with legal assistance from the Legal Resources Centre) have launched a court application to force the government to resolve the massive backlog. Beukman says, “while we recognise that the reconsideration process is an attempt to deal proactively with the appeals backlog, we are extremely concerned that without prescribed timeframes it will create another delay point at SASSA with the same affect of denying people their right to appeal.”
The Black Sash is however relieved that following intense lobbying from civil society, the Bill excluded a proposed amendment that would have negatively affected thousands of chronically ill people, both inside and outside of the social assistance system. This omission of a ‘definition’ of disability requires the government to go back to the drawing board to decide consultatively how they should look after people with chronic illnesses. The Black Sash has repeatedly called for a grant for poor people with chronic illnesses such as HIV, asthma and hypertension to help them access proper nutrition, shelter and treatment. “Helping sick people participate meaningfully in society is not just our Constitutional duty, it also makes social and economic sense to prevent people from becoming functionally disabled and unproductive,” insists Beukman.
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