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SASSA promises accelerated COVID-19 grant payments

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Despite millions of online applications for the COVID-19 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant, the South African Social Security Agency’s (SASSA’s) systems have been slow in issuing payments.

SASSA opened its application system for the social relief grant on 11 May, asking qualifying applicants to upload their applications via WhatsApp, USSD, e-mail and a special portal on the agency’s Web site.

Earlier this week, the agency confirmed 10 people were paid the R350 social relief grant, describing this as only a sample test of the payment side of its system.

It explains: “After increasing capacity of the application channels, SASSA moved swiftly to testing the payment side of its system. A sample of 10 beneficiaries was used to test the efficacy of the payment mechanism and nine were successfully paid. One applicant had captured his banking details incorrectly.

“This has since been corrected. This payment test should be seen for what it is. Just under five million applications have been received and this figure includes duplications, incomplete and invalid applications. Some applicants were sent messages to provide banking details and they are requested to respond quickly so that they can be paid before month-end.

“Unbanked applicants will be paid through money send using an ATM of their choice. SASSA will finalise contracting for this facility with the banks, so that such payments can be made this week. Beneficiaries can also open accounts at their nearest post office.”

To provide financial support to some unemployed South Africans during the nation-wide lockdown, government decided to set up the COVID-19 SDR grant. This will ensure unemployed persons receive R350 for six months, from May to October.

Targeted at the unemployed, only South African citizens, permanent residents or refugees registered on the home affairs system are eligible to receive the social relief grant.

SASSA is confident that once the vetting process is complete, it will be able to accelerate the pace of payments. Furthermore, the increased human resource capacity in level three of the COVID-19 lockdown will help in speeding the process.

According to the agency, it was important to only start paying out the social relief grants after tight systems were established and tested, to avoid wasteful expenditure and fraud.

“The mammoth task of ensuring the correct and deserving individuals are paid has started in earnest. This process involved intense negotiations with institutions in the value chain and this unfortunately accounted for the delays that were encountered.

“These delays proved to be worth it, given the number of applicants that could be excluded during the process as they are either in receipt of social grants or UIF – two factors which expressly disqualify applicants from receiving this grant.”

SASSA CEO Busisiwe Memela-Khambula has apologised for the “slower than expected” start to the payments process.

“We received just under five million applications for this new grant and we had to compare information provided by applicants with other government and private databases to ensure people with an income and recipients of other social grants are not included in these applications.

“In addition, we had to remove duplicated and incomplete applications which account for nearly 50% of all applications received. Up to now, we have eliminated a number of undeserving applicants and this has saved the fiscus close to R14 million, which could have sky-rocketed to over R81 million by October.”

As soon as the vetting of applications is completed, the payments will start at an even faster pace, says Memela-Khambula.

SASSA has also reminded citizens that no applications for the special COVID-19 relief grant will be taken at its offices because only electronic applications are accepted.

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