Social grant unlawful deductions: SASSA & Black Sash briefing; DHA on SASSA beneficiaries Identity documents to access social grants

Community Development (WCPP)

17 July 2018
Chairperson: Ms L Botha (DA)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Home Affairs provided a presentation of their office footprint and progress in modernising their offices. They also gave a detailed description of the regulations in place to acquire birth certificates and identification documents for people of varying ages and circumstances.

Members were concerned that the Department’s footprint was not large enough, and more should be done to help the communities who needed the identification documents the most. Transportation and other costs associated with acquiring identification were extremely difficult for lower income people to pay. They also questioned the bank chosen by the Department -- Standard Bank of Canal Wharf -- for both its location and singularity.  The footprint of offices was not large enough, as there were massive queues which forced the Department to turn people away, which wasted their time and added to their transport costs.

The Department responded by describing their efforts to improve these circumstances, and how they had been successful thus far.

Representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and social workers told the meeting that there were laws implemented by the Department which prevented them from doing their jobs, such as helping orphaned or abandoned children obtain identification, or to attend school. There were also no proper procedures described for burying someone without identification documents.

Black Sash said that the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) should be doing more to get the grants to those who had qualified for them, as well as refining the system and stopping the unlawful deductions already committed against the grants.

The Committee expressed its frustration that SASSA was not present to participate in the discussion, and indicated it hoped to be in communication with the Agency soon.

The Department of Social Development answered questions regarding its work with SASSA, and presented its plan to help those who should have received grants, but had not.

Meeting report

Opening Remarks

The Chairperson said the meeting would be different from that originally planned, because the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) was not in attendance. The Black Sash was present and would present an update since the last meeting when SASSA was present. The Department of Home Affairs and Child Welfare were also present, and the former would also be presenting. After the meeting, the Committee would meet privately to discuss the contents of the meeting, how to incorporate SASSA into the next meeting, and plan a way forward to implement what had been discussed.

Ms M Gillion (ANC) asked if questions intended for SASSA should be instead addressed to the Department of Social Development.

The Department responded that they would try their best to answer any questions.

Mr R Mackenzie (DA) asked the reason for SASSA’s absence.

The Chairperson said their reason for not attending would be discussed in the private discussion after the meeting.

Department of Home Affairs (DHA): Support given to SASSA beneficiaries

Mr Mosiuoa Ngaka, District Manager Operations and Acting Provincial Manager: DHA, provided a description of the Department’s footprint, which included stating the size of the office and a determination of whether or not it had been modernised. Eleven offices were mobile, although this would soon be phased out, and almost 80% had been modernised. The Department used one bank, the Standard Bank of Canal Wharf.

He then listed six Acts dating between 1992 and 2005 which were the legislative framework for providing identification and birth registration to South African citizens. He gave a list of stipulations associated with these pieces of legislation, and then listed the requirements for various age groupings to apply for registration or identification. The issue emphasised the most was birth registration within a baby’s first 30 days of life. After 30 days, the requirements to obtain identification increased dramatically for each age group. Procedures varied if one parent was not a citizen, or if there were no identified parents.

Discussion

Mr Mackenzie gave an example of taking his 16-year-old daughter to be registered in the previous week, and said that it had taken five hours despite their arrival to the office at 6:00 that morning. How had the Department worked to improve the queue and prevent this from happening in the future? He asked if the Smart ID card would be applicable at other banks, as well as the Standard Bank in Canal Wharf. What was the plan for foreign nationals who had children with South African citizens? If the parent was not a registered citizen -- meaning that the child was not either -- how would that child acquire a first time registration identity document (ID) to attend school?

Ms Gillion said that there was a mistake in the presentation, as there was no office in Overstrand. She asked what happened to offenders who did not register their child within 30 days of birth? It became a societal issue if the child was not registered. Conversely, the requirements for those over 60 years of age to register were too difficult to satisfy. There was a serious problem with unregistered elderly people, because they did not have the proper paperwork and there was no way for them to obtain it. Her last question was about foster children who did not have a court order -- how should they be registered?

Mr D Mitchell (DA) emphasised a concern about the distance from the offices for those who needed assistance. He asked if there was a set programme to bring services to people in more rural areas on a regular basis. How was the Department making the people aware that registration was necessary?

The Chairperson agree on the need for registration to be communicated to communities.

Ms P Lekker (ANC) asked what the proper process was in cases where people had died but had never possessed an ID in their life. This was a problem, because it made the burial process difficult. In the event of late registration, how should one acquire an ID if the school they previously attended no longer existed? It became a societal issue if the parent could not acquire an ID and thus was unable to work and provide for their families. Also, how should the child of a foreign national and a South African citizen be registered if the South African citizen had died?

Ms D Gopie (ANC) commented on the 22 modernised offices, and asked how long it would take to modernise the other six. Also, how was the bank for the Smart IDs – the Standard Bank on Canal Wharf -- chosen? When would other banks be included? Why was a bank not chosen in an area without an office to spread the influence of the Department? Where had the 11 mobile offices gone, and why not have them regularly reach out to the farthest places to ease the stress of transportation?

Ms Gillion asked how the bank operated so that she could correctly advise those who needed help. Also, Canal Wharf was located in a high income area -- would there soon be banks in lower income areas?

The Chairperson built on that topic, and asked why Standard Bank had been chosen -- why not a bank which was more accessible to persons at all levels of income? It cost a lot of money to travel to that area, which placed those who were in more difficult circumstances at a disadvantage. The Malmesbury office was no longer modern, so where were the people in that area to go? It cost a lot of money for people in that area to travel to the closest modernised office. What was the Department’s plan for working more smartly and aiming their plans more towards those who needed their help the most? Would that plan include collaboration with the Department of Social Development (DSD)? When would the mobile offices be phased out? Also, how did the Department communicate the need for registration and where to go for it, and how often was this communicated? Were the Thusong Centres being used? If so, where were they being used and what were the challenges?

Mr Mitchell asked how the Department was working with the DSD or the Department of Justice to obtain information about abandoned or orphaned children. He mentioned the 11 offices identified in the presentation, and asked if there were any plans to extend the reach of the Department. The office locations were not sufficient, and it cost a lot of money for people to travel to them if there was not one in their area.

Mr Mackenzie asked the Department about the mobile units -- how they were advertised and how the areas for them to go to were chosen. They were very much needed, because those who were unemployed needed identification in order to work. However, those people who were unemployed did not have enough money to pay for the transportation to go to stationed offices. Once mobile units were in an area, how was awareness spread so that people would know to come?

DHA’s response

Mr Ngaka began with Mr Mackenzie’s question about the length of queues. There would, unfortunately, always be queues, but the Department was aware that this was an issue and had been implementing measures to ease the chaos. Within these offices, there was supposed to be an office manager regulating what was happening and communicating to the people if the office was full, and if they would have less of a wait in another office. Office managers were also responsible for informing the people if there were more people present than the office could serve. The queue itself was divided -- split into groups of clients who were collecting, clients who were applying, what information the clients already possessed, and what they were applying for. The last measure in the war on queues was to give each client a colour, based on when they arrived. Every two hours, a new colour would be handed out. That way, officials could see if someone had been waiting for over two hours.

Ms Bongiwe Sakawuli, District Manager, Operations: DHA, continued to speak on this aspect, saying that the office would open an hour and a half early, with office workers working voluntarily for no pay, to begin collecting information so that directly at 8:00, the office could start distributing IDs. Also, if the office was forced to turn away those they did not have the ability to assist, those who were not seen were asked to fill out a contact card and they were then placed in a WhatsApp group. She then played the recording of a message which was played at 8:00 and 12:00 every day over the radio, which outlined where the offices were and which ones had the longest queues. It was also possible clients to be given a card as proof of their being present in the office, so they could go to an appointment and then come back later and receive priority with the card.

Something else the Department was working on was a school project. They visited schools and acquired a list of all the children without IDs. That way, the Department knew where to send aid, as well as how to prioritise children. In Wynberg, there was a programme that the Department was working on, to have monitors displaying the number which described which client was being helped, dispersed throughout a shopping mall so that clients could do other things while they waited.

Ms Irmgard Michaels, District Manager Operations: DHA, reinforced the importance of combating lengthy queues because of the dire affect on communities. Another effort the Department had been working on was to group officers in areas of high population, or where there were large influxes of clients. A chain of command had also been established, with the office manager at the head. All desks should be manned, especially during times of high influx. These measures, and all those previously mentioned, were monitored through random unannounced visits by superiors.

Mr Ngaka said that the bank in Canal Wharf had been chosen because of prioritisation. It was in a central location, but most clients preferred to go to one of the Department’s offices instead of a bank anyway, so this was not a problem for rural areas.

On the issue of foster children with no court orders, Mr Ngaka said that when foster children came to the Department, they were attended to by a social worker. This social worker could then go to court and easily obtain the proper paperwork within a short period of time in order to help that child.

Punishment for those who did not register their babies within 30 days had already been determined in 2015 by legislation. A penalty of about R300 was given to the parents of children registered between ages one to seven, and about R500 for those between seven and 14. This had never been implemented, because the Department was still waiting for confirmation from the Treasury.

Awareness was spread by having stakeholder forums. This allowed for discussion and open communication with local community leaders. It was better to work with local officials and utilise their resources.

Concerning those who had died without identification, and with the requirement for a burial, a death certificate could be handwritten and then the finer details could be worked out after the burial.

For special issues concerning the elderly, or those who needed to work but had no way of obtaining the proper paperwork, the Department would provide an interview. In that interview, the Department would be better able to assess the situation and assist.

On the location of the mobile offices, right now they were going to where they were most needed, but they were being phased out. The reason they were being phased out was because the Department was trying to modernise and to do this, it was creating more permanent offices so that the mobile offices would not even be necessary.
           
Ms Michaels said that the Malmesbury office had been closed since 2017 because they had been evicted by a court order. The office was still partially functional, without modernisation. Clients in that area had been traveling to Paarl or Atlantis. New office spaces had been viewed.

She agreed that the current footprint of the offices was not large enough to suit the current needs. Mobile units would be a solution, but they were not equipped to perform the modernised services. By July of 2019, they would be equipped for these services, and this would be fixed.

Banks other than Standard Bank were being considered, and would be used in the future. The infrastructure necessary for the Department was provided by the banks and if they were not willing, that limited the options for banks available. This project was still in its infant stages.

The modernisation of offices in Stellenbosch and Grabouw had been earmarked for this year because there was rollover from the 2017/2018 financial year. These projects were currently on the table for the acting Deputy Director General (DDG), and would be implemented soon.

Mobile services would be phased out when the modernised version was available for replacement.

To communicate with other departments, the DHA would have different levels of communication ranging from interaction between office managers, to provincial managers.

Mr Ngaka added that the Department was working with SASSA to encourage people to become registered, even if they were registering late.

Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) on registration challenges

Child Welfare
Ms Bettie Nieuwoudt, Director: Child Welfare, said the presentation did not accurately portray what was happening on the ground. Too much focus was placed on the six relevant Acts, and not enough effort was being put into fulfilling the Constitution. She asked if only South African citizens were allowed to apply for identification at the age of 16, or if that also applied to foreign nationals’ children.

She said that there were too many extra costs associated with acquiring identification, such as transport and taking photographs. Child Welfare had yet to turn its back on a child attempting to acquire identification, but it was costing thousands of rands per child and the price was too high. The people who needed this identification the most could not afford it.

She mentioned Child Welfare’s difficulties with identifying the father of a child if the mother died, because fathers’ names were not being put on birth certificates. She also expressed frustration for children who had been home schooled, as they were all aged from six to12 but they could not receive birth certificates because they had no official proof of education.

She also raised a complaint about the cases of children of a foreign national and a South African citizen. Why did the paternity test have to be when the child was under 3 months old? The results would not change. For people in difficult circumstances, it may be difficult to pay and receive the test, get it approved by the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS), and then pay again to go to the Department’s office within a timeframe. Why was it not possible to get approval from any medical lab?

Ms Nieuwoudt requested the DHA to work with Child Welfare, as social service officers were not allowed to provide a form 38 report – a report by a designated social worker to be considered by a Children’s Court -- or even a lawyer, as it was against the law. It was extremely time consuming and difficult to provide a social service officer for every child going to court. It would be much more efficient for DHA and Child Welfare to work together and find a better way. Child Welfare had succeeded in court in issuing the DHA with a court order. The DHA had three months to issue a birth certificate. Otherwise, the manager of the DHA must appear before the Children’s Court and provide reasons for this failure.

Afrikaanse Christelike Vroue Vereeniging (ACVV)
Ms Elma Filmalter, Regional Manager: ACVV, said the presentation indicated that it took 180 days to receive a late birth registration, but argued that it took longer than this. This was a problem, because the children could not apply for foster care grants because of this. Her other concern was that the DHA did not allow social workers to print copies of a death or birth certificate, and these were necessary in order to complete certain forms for the court. The DHA preferred a family member to complete these forms, but that could not always be accomplished, as the family members responsible might be either dead or absent.

Valley Development Projects
Ms Sue Burger, Social Worker Supervisor: Valley Development Projects, emphasised how important it was for children to have a birth certificate, because otherwise they could not receive access to the grant or even to a school. It was taking too long to oobtain birth certificates. Children were out of school in many cases for the entire year. Part of what made this so difficult was that maternity certificates expired after one month. She asked to be able to sit with the DHA and develop a system to maximise the time of both the DHA, the children and social workers.

Department of Social Development

Mr Mkuseli Luvalo, a social worker from the Department of Social Development (DSD), who was working on a social relief programme, said the DSD had experienced similar problems with the DHA in the issuing of birth certificates. In the metro, there were even difficulties in burying someone because they had not been registered by the mother. There were many cases where the mother was either negligent or dead, and had not registered the child. Could the DHA open a court case of negligence in that situation? There should be a court order to compel the mother to help her child.

The Chairperson asked Mr Ngaka if the DHA could commit to meeting with those who had spoken, and to discuss these matters, as they had requested.

Mr Ngaka said the Department was there to assist and their doors were open. District managers were available to help.

The Chairperson spoke on behalf of the organisations and asked for commitment to a date. She mentioned that these organisations had had frustrations in the past with scheduled meetings that the Department had cancelled and never rescheduled.

Mr Ngaka stated although the Department could commit, right now was a very busy time with school starting. Next month (August) would have many more open dates for meetings. He was only the Acting Provincial Manager, and as his term in office ended on 31 July, it was difficult for him to speak on the behalf of those who would be in office after him. However, his replacement, Ms Michaels, was present at this meeting.

Mr Charles Jordan, Chief Director: DSD, said the DSD was struggling immensely with the DHA. When a foster child or orphan was being registered, it was illegal in terms of section 305 of the Children’s Act for the DSD to “release a report as required by Home Affairs to register that child.” Social workers could be criminally charged for doing this. He asked to schedule a meeting with Ms Michaels to discuss this in August, when the Department had the chance.

The Chairperson agreed that a meeting was necessary and should be set up immediately. She asked for the Committee to be informed of the progress of this meeting.

Ms Nieuwoudt added one last comment, saying that this work was for all the children of South Africa, not just of the Western Cape, making these problems even more important.

The Chairperson addressed the DHA and asked about the progress on the issue of the Basotho in Clanwilliam.

Ms Michaels responded said that matter fell under their immigration services. The Department did have a plan which addressed the West Coast. This plan included immigration services entering towns and working with local law entities.

The Chairperson said she would like to discuss more about this, but the Committee needed to focus on other matters at this meeting. She then called for a break.

When the meeting resumed, she that there would not be enough time for the Department to answer all the questions posed so they should answer the questions directly to those who had asked them in writing.

Black Sash on progress to reimburse social grant beneficiaries affected by unlawful deductions

Ms Amanda Ismail, Regional Manager: Black Sash, said the purpose of Black Sash was to reduce inequality and poverty, especially where it pertained to women and children. Social security was a constitutional right. Black Sash found that there were many inexcusable and unlawful deductions made to the social grant. There were companies making these unlawful deductions, and when Black Sash had approached them to ask for statistics, the phone number was blocked. Beneficiaries reporting these deductions had still not been reimbursed. These deductions were being done using “Easy Pay Everywhere” (EPE) banking. Many people had been given misinformation – that the EPE card was the new SASSA card -- or they were just denied access to view their account. She then outlined other deductions performed, such as funeral policy deductions and protection of the beneficiaries’ confidential data. She commented on some of SASSA’s findings, and said she was content with the way SASSA was phasing out cash payments and had instead proposed a card.

She felt there had been some attempts made to protect beneficiaries’ confidential data, but there should be even more progress. Black Sash was advocating an inspectorate to monitor and evaluate corruption. More requests had been made, including that SASSA should be working out the technical glitches so that beneficiaries could access their full grants, and that it should make sure that the system was user-friendly.

Discussion

The Chairperson commented that while this was no reflection on the Black Sash, all questions proposed in this presentation would be aimed towards SASSA.

Mr Mackenzie agreed that in order to have an in-depth conversation, SASSA needed to be present. He asked Black Sash about the blocking of numbers -- what basis could people give to cell phone companies to block Black Sash’s number? He commented that Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) had conducted themselves with inappropriate behaviour.

Ms Gillion said that what had been transpiring had had a huge impact on the communities. Her constituency office had been bombarded by people who had received access to this grant, but not the grant itself. What could be done by the DSD to help them? When she had asked this before, she had been told that this was problem was occurring because the Department did not have a service provider. She asked for a plan of action to get this sorted out.

The Chairperson said SASSA had said they would come to the meeting, but had done an about turn the week before because the Committee had failed to complete proper Parliamentary processes. However, they had not responded to her request to inform her as to what the proper process was. Despite this, a way forward would be discussed.

Mr Mitchell expressed his disappointment that SASSA was not in attendance. He said that the Committee should extend a courtesy to the Minister to form connections and prevent this from happening in the future.

The Chairperson agreed to invite the Minister, as she believed the Minister would be sympathetic to what was currently happening to communities.

She asked the DSD what they were doing to provide support and to combat the unfair treatment of beneficiaries.

Mr Caesar Sauls, Deputy Director: Provincial Social Relief of Distress Coordinator. DSD, asked for clarity on whether the Chairperson, when referring to those who had not received grants, was referring to those who had applied for grants or those who were being provided with social relief.

Ms Gillion responded that the question meant recipients who had not received money they were qualified for.

Mr Sauls said that the DSD had a responsibility to look after the needs of the most vulnerable. He asked if there was a database of the clients who had not received the grant and should have, and if so, whether it could be made available to the DSD so that they could to help. On receipt of that, the DSD would be able to engage with the Acting Regional Executive Manager and the Director of SASSA on the ground.

The Chairperson added that some people have not received the grant because of migration. Would the DSD share the list of clients with SASSA and work together with them?

Mr Sauls said the Department would. Also, if the list proved there were clients not receiving the grant because of SASSA, there should be a remedial action. The list would also help to identify the areas most in need, so that the DSD would be able to concentrate its efforts where needed.

Ms Gopie asked if this information could also be made available to constituency offices so there could be better communication to those who came to the offices because they had not received their grant money. They needed to know where to go.

The Chairperson said that questions would not be asked now to the Black Sash. Instead, the Committee would be plotting the way forward without the presence of the Black Sash and others, and then the Black Sash would be invited again in the future to discuss the issues. At this future meeting, SASSA should also be present. The rest of the meeting would be private for the Committee, but NGOs, departments and others were welcome to stay and talk after the Committee finished in around 20 minutes.

The Chairperson again emphasised the importance of the topics discussed for communities, and expressed her frustration at the lack of progress. She thanked all for attending, especially to the NGOs who were representing the people and the social workers who were helping them. 

The meeting was adjourned.
 

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