Pensioners caught in a fix

2016-02-09 06:00

WIDESPREAD looting of pensioner and disability grant accounts is continuing despite a campaign by a leading NPO to raise the issue at the highest level.

The Black Sash, an organisation championing human rights, has been campaigning against the illegal deductions since South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) switched beneficiaries to a biometric recognition system, apparently making the account-holder vulnerable to scamsters across the globe.

In October last year, The Witness reported that grant beneficiaries and pensioners across the country had fallen victim to an avalanche of scams that saw money — in the order of 10% to 97% of monthly grant payments — deducted every month.

The deductions are made under the guise of airtime and electricity ­purchases, or small loan repayments.

Black Sash have called for debit deductions to stop and for restrictions on third-party creditor access to bank accounts, referring to Sassa’s tender with Cash Paymaster Services (CPS).

Black Sash has said that 40% of the population is vulnerable to such scams. It said third-party creditors had ­accessed personal information from the database controlled by the service ­provider, and were using dubious methods to market loans, airtime, funeral insurance and other financial products to grant beneficiaries.

Black Sash Cape Town regional manager Colleen Ryan said she had met a 97-year-old woman a week earlier who had only 52 cents left in her account after alleged illegal deductions. “Unfortunately, this is not an unusual problem and February has been the worst month with unlawful deductions so far,” said Ryan.

“Sassa has claimed to come up with a system to stop the unlawful deductions but we say this is not so.

“Sassa is supposed to collect the details, load the data onto the system and help the complainant with an affidavit, but often that does not happen. Sassa was given two days to respond to the allegations but failed to do so.

SASSA national spokesperson Kgomoco Diseko said it was not wise to speculate that the “disability grant money had been unlawfully deducted”.

“We need an ID number and contact information of the beneficiary in order to ascertain the reasons behind the alleged deduction.

“Each time an unauthorised deduction is reported and an affidavit submitted, each case is investigated and if it is proved that the deduction was unauthorised, the beneficiary is refunded in the next payment cycle,” said Diseko.

“The current Sassa tender was awarded to Cash Paymaster Services and Sassa will perform that function internally once that contract expires. We advise beneficiaries who experience deductions to contact their Sassa office to report the matter or call 080 060 1011.”

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