Holding Social Development and SASSA to account

THE Minister of Social Development, the Department of Social Development and the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) need to account for the unauthorised, undocumented and illegal debit deductions from the bank accounts of social grantees by outsourced contractor, Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) and holding company NET 1 since the introduction of the biometric system in 2012.

Social Assistance, as enshrined in Section 27 of our Constitution, provides a vital income for millions of South African households trapped in a binary of poverty and inequality, unable to provide for their own needs and those of dependents. The public purse pays social grants to the elderly, the disabled, as well as children, who are found through a stringent means test to be in real financial need. Approximately 15 million people benefitting from social grant provisions have become the target of commercially motivated and unscrupulous credit by financial service providers, who use confidential personal information, entrusted to our government.

The unauthorised, undocumented and unlawful debit deductions crisis, fuelled by greed and excessive profits, is eroding the mandate and integrity of the social security system. It is also eroding gains made towards the progressive realisation of social security over the last 20 years since our democracy. Thousands of families are experiencing increased hardship and now struggle to pay for food, rent, school fees, transport and other basic needs due to these deductions, seriously compromising basic human dignity.

As early as 2011, the Black Sash and partners began to uncover violations of Norms and Standards at SASSA Paypoints and found increasing evidence of irregular, unauthorised and undocumented third party debit deductions from SAS SA beneficiaries' bank accounts. In 2012, largely as a result of the Service Level Agreement between the SASSA and CPS/Netl, debit deductions of social grants increased drastically. Furthermore, the CPS's recourse systems remains ineffective, adding additional burden and cost on social grant beneficiaries.

The Stop SASSA-CPS Debits campaign launched in 2013 by the Black Sash and supported by various civil society partners, draws attention to the crisis of debit deductions from social assistance grants. For a period of a year, we registered concerns with government using information generated from desperate calls to the Black Sash Helpline, the Legal Resources Centre, community advice offices and CBOs across South Africa. Whilst we are encouraged by government's acknowledgement that things are seriously wrong — actions to remedy the crisis are inadequate and slow.

Correspondence in November 2013 and the open letter dated 6 January 2014 to the Department of Social Development, SASSA, the South African Reserve Bank and related government departments as well as public entities requested an urgent meeting. The 29 January 2014 meeting held at Khotso House, Johannesburg provided a public platform to register the crisis and consider responses and actions from government, particularly from the Minister of Social Development, the Department of Social Development and SASSA.