"Now I can't afford groceries"

now i cant afford groceriesHundreds of Sassa beneficiaries who have become victims of unlawful debt deductions from their grants are struggling to make ends meet. Sassa beneficiary Esme Pamplin, 65, of Heideveld says she did not approve the deductions for airtime, loans and other goods In February, Pamplin first noticed that more than R100 had been deducted from her account for electricity and airtime.

The deductions have not only forced Pamplin's family to cut back on essential goods, but have also had a negative impact on her well-being. Pamplin's case will soon be included on a list compiled by Black Sash for their country-wide campaign to stop illegal debt deductions from the bank accounts of Sassa beneficiaries. Pamplin lives in Heideveld, a community where unemployment is high.

Seated in the front room of her two-bedroomed council flat, Pamplin clasps several papers. These are her payment receipts for the past four months. As an old age pension beneficiary, Pamplin receives R1,350 a month. Pamplin said her grant
was the only stable income for her family of seven which included her husband, two children, two grandchildren and a great grandchild.

"I pay R70 for rent relief. I can only afford to buy between R10 and R30 electricity as we needed it, but I could never afford to buy more than that. The most important things I buy are maize meal, rice, some vegetables and R200 worth of meat for
the month," she said. "In February I started noticing the deductions, R50 for electricity and R99 for airtime. Since then, I've changed my Sassa card twice. I called the helpline and office numbers, but could never get through. When I got through they said I should contact CPS. I got so angry because no one was helping me and the money was still being deducted," she said. CPS is the company that administers social grants.

Pamplin said she went to Sassa offices in the city centre where an official promised to reimburse her for the deductions. "I explained to them that I don't even have a cellphone. All my telephone calls go to my neighbour's phone. I also told them
it couldn't be my children buying the airtime because I hide my ID and (Sassa) card away from them. The person that helped me, told me they would refund me in June," she said. Pamplin became tearful as she explained how her family has
struggled in the past four months. "It's a lot of money being taken from my account. Now, I can't afford to buy most of the groceries I did before. I just hope they keep this promise and stop it from happening again. I haven't paid my
accounts for the past two months. If they [Sassa] refund me, I can make ends meet again," she said.

Sassa acting head of communications, Moabi Pitsi said over the past two years, Sassa have had public awareness and educational campaigns through advertisements on the radio, newspapers and at workshops country-wide. "There is a procedure that beneficiaries follow once there are signs of unlawful debt deductions. It includes investigating each case and finding ways to resolve that matter," he said.