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Social grants to see changes?

By Jessica Anne Wood

The Department of Social Development has submitted amendments to the Social Assistance Act for public comment. At a media briefing, Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini, announced the proposed changes to the Act, which include improving the efficiency of the operationalisation of the Inspectorate, a shortening in the appeals process, and an increase in grant payments to orphans and children from child-headed households.

Dlamini said: “The amendments also seek to establish a supplementary benefits fund; which will enable government to provide funeral benefits to the elderly and a savings vehicle for caregivers of children with the aim of linking social grants to developmental activities.

“The amendments also allow the Ministers of Social Development and Finance to make additional payments for certain social grants. This will enable the introduction of the policy approved by Cabinet in December 2015 for the payment of additional amounts for the Child Support Grant to orphans and children in child headed households.”

The Appeals Tribunal

The current appeals process is a lengthy affair. The system states that if a person is not happy with the outcome of their grant application they need to approach the South Africa Social Security Agency (SASSA) first, within 90 days of the decision being made for it to be reconsidered. SASSA then also has 90 days to respond.

Following this, if you are still not happy with the decision, you can appeal to the Independent Tribunal for Social Assistance Appeals within 90 days and the Tribunal has another 90 days to judge the appeal.

According to Dlamini, the reason for the appeals process to first be handled internally “was to limit the envisaged errors which could have been made by SASSA staff.” However, she noted that this is no longer necessary as SASSA has improved its administration system and has many built-in quality control checks and balances.

“Hence there is no longer a need for this potential six month delay before SASSA can lodge an appeal. The Amendment Bill proposes that a person will; immediately after receiving a decision from SASSA relating to their grant application; be able to directly lodge an appeal with the Independent Tribunal within a period of 90 days from the date of SASSA’s decision,” explained Dlamini.

The amendment bill further states that any documents required for the appeals process must be submitted to SASSA within 30 days of the Tribunal’s request. Following this, the Tribunal will have 60 days to judge the appeal.

The Inspectorate

Dlamini revealed that there is an entrenched behaviour by some at SASSA to defraud the grants system. The Inspectorate will look into the number of fraud and corruption cases over the last three years.

She noted: “The grants administration system is currently plagued by illegal deductions, involvement of SASSA officials in fraudulent activities, unethical conduct of health practitioners who deliberately recommend disability grant applicants to be disabled for disability grants and officials accepting cash to approve grants.

“The significant number of grant beneficiaries complain about poor service delivery at local SASSA offices claiming that the elderly are often neglected. The anti-fraud function has been performed by the Special Investigations Unit in the past and more recently by SASSA.”

The introduction of the independent Inspectorate will, according to Dlamini, provide an improved level of oversight. She highlighted that SASSA “cannot be a player and a referee”, with the Inspectorate having governance over the social assistance function.

The specific mandate of the Inspectorate will be to conduct investigations, as well as maintain the integrity of the social assistance frameworks and systems. The execution of internal financial audits, and audits on compliance by SASSA will also form part of its duties.

“This will be done through regulatory, policy measures and instruments, investigation of fraud, corruption and other forms of financial and service mismanagement including criminal activity, within SASSA and in connection with its functions, duties and operations,” said Dlamini.

Supplementary Benefits Fund

The lack of death and funeral social security benefits has left social grant recipients “vulnerable to exploitative and predatory practices by private insurance providers,” explained Dlamini. The Supplementary Benefit Funds will focus on providing funeral benefits.

Many poor South Africans are not prepared for the expenses associated with death. Dlamini pointed out that households without adequate cover to fund these expenses, occasionally resort to loans or sell assets to help cover the costs. In addition the this, there are other issues at play, such as family members being unaware of existing cover and therefore not claiming benefits, or not knowing who to contact when the need arises.

“The introduction of a Supplementary Benefits Fund provides a vehicle for government to provide additional benefits such as funeral benefits and any other benefit linked to the beneficiary linked benefits.

“The actual benefits levels will be determined between the Minister of Social Development and Finance at the time of implementation and annually, as it is with the grants. This will also enable the provision of saving products,” said Dlamini.

Additional grant payments

Cabinet approved the proposal to increase the value of child support grant (CSG) for orphans and children in child-headed households in line with the medium terms strategic framework of government, in December 2015. The amendment bill aims to provide legislative framework for the implementation of this policy.

The main objective of this policy is to provide social assistance to poor children who are orphaned and living with family members, as well as children living in child-headed households.

“The policy proposes a higher value for CSG, which may be determined by the Minister of Social Development in agreement with the Minister of Finance from time to time. This is not a new grant but builds on the success of the existing CSG,” explained Dlamini.

Furthermore, Dlamini stated: “By increasing the value the of the CSG to orphans; government can provide greater income support to all orphans and not only for those fortunate enough to access the foster care system.

“Such increased value would reduce the administrative burden on the state as it is easier to administer Child Support Grant as opposed to the Foster Child Grant.”

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