Social Assistance Regulations: Department of Social Development Update

Social Development

24 June 2008
Chairperson: Advocate M Masutha (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee was briefed by the Department of Social Development on the Social Assistance Regulations. The Department provided an update on the changes to the regulations. It was noted that the section on the Basic Income Grant would be reworked to ensure that the conditions concurred with the Procedure Manual of the Department.  The key policy areas in the regulations dealt with litigation issues and alternative identification. There was now allowance for acceptance of affidavits and other documents instead of identity documents, and Permanent Residents were also now allowed access to social assistance.  The means test had been reworked, including for those requiring child support grants. The social register had been tightened up, and the income threshold for grants had been increased.

Members suggested that further checks and balances were needed, and suggested that there was a need for guidelines. It was suggested that the regulations should be promulgated as soon as possible. There were several criticisms around the means test, which the Committee felt was excluding some people, and more research was required. Questions were raised and answered on the implementation of Regulation 10(6) on alternative forms of identification, as well as the position in regard to orphans. The key aspects of the work of the Social Security Agency was outlined.

The Alliance for Children’s Entitlement to Social Security noted its concerns around the draft regulations and the proposed date of 1 July for promulgation. It claimed that there were certain inconsistencies from the previous decisions, although it was pleased to see provisions for children, as well as the close working with the Department of Home Affairs. There was also concern that the Child Support Grant was not extending to all children up to 18 years old. Members were concerned about how those in the rural areas were benefiting, how they were being informed and suggested that there be a manual developed and that those most in need be identified and prioritized. Once again there were queries around the means test and its impact. It was suggested that there should not be any delays in putting the regulations into operation.

Meeting report

Update on the Social Assistance Regulations by Department of Social Development
The Chairperson explained that the purpose of meeting was to get a progress report from the Department of Social Development (DSD) regarding the new regulations governing the payment of Social Grants.

Mr Thabo Rakoloti, Chief Director: Social Assistance, Department of Social Development provided an update on the regulations and some of the proposed changes and numbers involved in terms of the impact of some of the changes.

The presentation set out how far the Department had gone with the regulations.

There was agreement to re-work the section on the Basic Income Grant to ensure that the conditions concurred with the Procedure Manual of the Department (see document).

At this point Ms C Dudley (ACDP) interjected to ask if reference could be made to specific regulations. She had not found that she had gained much benefit from the presentation and asked Mr Rakoloti to go back to Resolution 27 on Permanent Residents.

Ms I Direko (ANC) agreed it would be helpful if the Committee was referred to the relevant regulations so that these could be checked.

Mr F Makiwane (ANC) asked for a clause by clause, and area by area, referral so that the changes could be followed.

Mr Rakoloti responded that a clause by clause approach would not be possible, but the Chief Director of Legal Services of the Department could assist for purposes of the presentation. Information would first be provided on the means test before the Department spoke to the regulations.

Mr Rakoloti said that the key policy areas in the regulations dealt with litigation issues and alternative identification, which allowed for affidavits. Permanent Residents were also now allowed access to social assistance. The means test had been reworked to allow more people access to the system including those requiring child support grants. The social register had been tightened up as it was previously very open-ended.

In terms of the new arrangements, alternative identification would now be accepted in the form of sworn affidavits. The Social Security Agency (SASSA) was now in a position to implement the first court order. A person without identification was no longer denied access, under the new alternative identification system.

Changes had been made to the means test for the Child and Adult grants. The income threshold had been increased and with an increase in grant , the value of  the income threshold increased as well.

Discussion
Ms H Weber (DA) said that more checks and balances were needed regarding affidavits as confirmation of these affidavits was an important step in the process.

Mr Putsemelo Loselo, Chief Director: Legal Services, DSD said three types of identification were required, the identity document, a birth certificate, and proof of a spousal relationship. A sworn statement was required and the regulations prescribed what form the identity could take. Permanent Residents  and disabled refugees were also now able to apply for social grants.

Ms Direko stated the means test was still shutting people out, and more research was required, as even the size of the house mattered.

Mr Loselo said that in terms of Regulation 10(42), if income was derived from property, it would be taken into consideration.

Mr Loselo said that there were exceptions to the means tests in terms of Annexure A of the regulations.

Kgoshi K Morwamoche (ANC) said that the means test could lead to unnecessary litigation. Guidelines were required to approach this matter as there was a difference between SASSA officials working at the municipality, and those working for the magistrate. It was better now that there was a single regulation from Head Office to address this matter. He asked about the costs of litigation.

Mr Loselo responded that the Office of the State Attorney or a private attorney would be briefed in the case of any litigation. The Department still had to pay litigation costs.

Ms M Gumede (ANC) expressed concern that MPs did not get grants.

Mr Fezile Makiwane, Chief Executive Officer, SASSA, asked for guidance from the Committee regarding policies and regulations. He said that if the two were linked this still would not address how the Social Assistance Act was going to be operationalised through the regulations. SASSA needed to be able to do justice to the regulations, and these should be promulgated as soon as possible.  Cabinet had decided to increase the scope of services, so in the interim more people could enter the discussions on social security.

Mr Rakoloti acknowledged the problems in terms of the way the means test was structured. A study had been conducted which showed how the means test could impact on the social grant. One of the proposals was to remove the means test for the child support grant, but if this had been done, the figures would have cost the State more money. There was a need to universalise the old age grant as the means test may not be an appropriate way to target that group that needed assistance.

The Chairperson asked if National Treasury had approved the costings.

Mr Rakoloti responded that Treasury had looked at the figures, and had approved them.

Ms D Duskenky, SASSA, provided an input on the implementation of Regulation 10(6) on alternative forms of identification. The alternative forms of identification included an affidavit from a Commissioner of Oaths outside of SASSA, and additional supporting documents like the receipt from the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) that showed that an application had been made for an identity book. Reports from schools and baptism certificates were also acceptable. An administrative process had been instituted to follow-up all matters with the DHA to fast track applications. Proof had to be shown that the applicant had been to the DHA. SASSA would intervene with the DHA if the application had been made. If the DHA declined the application then the grant would not be paid. SASSA was monitoring the processes very closely and payments were only made at pay-points, not at post offices, so that contact could be maintained. Ms Duskenky reported that 176 applications had been made without identity documents, which was roughly 50 applications per week.

Mr Makiwane spoke about one of the key aspects of SASSA’s work, which was the targeting of social assistance to ensure that the poor benefited. Social assistance could not be for everyone, only those who had a certain level of income and needed support. To ensure that the poor benefited, the means test was used. The means test did penalise some of the poor because of its requirements. Some persons, whose spouses were employed, or who were earning above a certain threshold, could not get payment. The debates on targeting were international debates to try to find the best way to qualify persons for grants. There was no definitive measure and there needed to be a review in the context of SASSA. Mr Makiwane concluded that SASSA was presently investigating whether the means test could be done away with and replaced with some other more viable way of assessment.

An IFP Member posed a question to SASSA, noting the research done by Alliance for Children’s Entitlement to Social Security (ACCESS) and asked how assistance was provided for undocumented children, like orphans.

Ms Duskenky responded that assistance was provided to undocumented children. She noted that children needed documents for school as well. There was ongoing liaison with the DHA to ensure that primary care-givers were getting the grants for these children. One of the ways to manage the risks included steps to become aware of people who were claiming grants for non-existent children. Visits to homes were being done on a random basis and there was also liaison with community leaders.

Alliance for Children’s Entitlement to Social Security (ACESS) briefing
Ms Patricia Martin, Director ACESS spoke about the draft regulations, and noted that ACESS had raised concerns around the draft regulations and the proposed date of 1 July for promulgation, which called into question the procedures to be followed after this meeting. She tabled a document (see attached) which set out these concerns. There were inconsistencies with the previous decisions taken. An example of those inconsistencies related to the affidavit and sworn statement, which caused huge backlogs in the system. ACCESS was pleased to see provisions in place for children, as it allowed the most vulnerable to be catered for. Working closely with the DHA was a positive step in the process as much depended on identification and the alternative forms of identification introduced.

Ms Martins expressed concern regarding the changes in the regulations. She noted that Clause 10(6) in 2005 had made provision for alternative forms of identification. However, Clause 11 was vague, and allowed for the discretion by Agency officials, to accept alternative proof in respect of spousal relationships. The wording in clause 10(6) was found to be more acceptable because the discretion was framed in a way that related to ‘any‘ documents necessary for an application.

It was noted that in respect of the Child Support Grant for children up to the age of 18 years old, there was a shift in emphasis that could lead to the limiting the Minister’s discretionary powers. The most marginalised children would therefore not benefit, including children who were 18 years old.

Discussion
Ms Weber asked how children from rural areas would fulfill the requirements as the document was a very complex one.

The Chairperson stated that there should be a manual that simplified the reading of the document.

Ms Bogopane-Zulu supported ACESS’s concerns regarding Clauses 10(6) and 11(1). The changes recommended by ACESS must be welcomed. SASSA was not implementing what the Committee was recommending and their services were not consistently applied across both rural and urban areas. She asked if certain geographic areas were prioritised.

Ms Bogopane-Zulu also said that the most needy percentage of the population should be prioritized, so that the turnaround time was made shorter.

Ms Bogopane-Zulu suggested that SASSA should develop pamphlets on the regulations, with simple language, and distribute these to rural communities.

Mr B Solo (ANC) asked ACCESS to speak about what means testing and targeting meant for the organisation, and what they would like to see happen in regard to greater awareness. He also asked what level of knowledge would be required to empower them in their work.

Ms Martin stated that if the Department would stay with the long-term vision a lot of questions would be addressed.  Means testing in the rural areas impacted upon the implementation. She suggested that the means test should be done away with as the greatest difficulty was inconsistency in the application of the legislation. There was a very strong rural presence and training materials should be made available to ensure that all members were kept updated and rural communities could be adequately informed.

Ms Bogopane-Zulu asked what benefits and services were available to children between the ages of 14 and 18 years.

Mr Loselo said that the definition of a child would determine who could qualify for a grant. The age of 15 was the cut off point at the moment for the child grant, as the Department could only currently afford to pay grants up to this age. There was a great deal of confusion surrounding the definition of a child between 15 and 18.

Mr Rakoloti added that the Department was conducting a study to look at what measures and conditions could be to extended to children between the ages of 14 and 18.

Mr Loselo stated that in respect of the Age of Qualification for a Child Support Grant, the regulation in 2005 repeated the wording of the Act, which provided that the Minister could make qualifications for a particular age.

The Chairperson asked for explanations about alternative identification and the kind of affidavit that was being spoken of. He asked who would then held accountable if someone lied. He asked further how the regulations clarified disability and HIV grants. 

Mr Loselo said that in respect of alternative identification, the clause now was no different from that in the 2005 regulations. The alternative identification requirements and conditions applied to Clause 11(1) (a), (b) and (c), for all types of identification.

Mr Daniel Plaatjies, Executive Manager, SASSA responded that a programme had been designed to train staff on the Regulations in all eleven languages, and a procedure manual had also been developed on the execution of duties. SASSA now recognised Commissioners of Oaths from the police, but the affidavit should be accompanied by a report from the school principal or church.

The Chairperson asked if it was constitutional to limit the grants to certain children below the age of 18.

The Chairperson noted that the regulations did not need to be approved at this stage, as Parliament still had to develop a framework to deal with them. There should be no delay in operationalising regulations, but the Department needed to take into account the concerns of members.

The meeting was adjourned

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