Cape Town - The accounts of social grant beneficiaries who have EasyPay Everywhere ("green" card) accounts will remain active after the contract between the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) and Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) comes to an end in March 2018.
This is according to Net1, owner of CPS.
All social grant recipients are issued with Sassa cards which they can use to draw cash at the 10 000 pay points situated across the country at no charge; ATMs (this incurs bank charges); and at various shops which include Pick n Pay and Shoprite (incurs store charges).
In addition, social grant recipients who apply for loans from Moneyline, a Net1 company, are issued with green EasyPay Everywhere cards. They can then use these cards instead of the Sassa cards to transact from their accounts in Grindrod Bank, GroundUp reported.
There has been much criticism of the system, which some say allows Net1 companies to share information about social grant beneficiaries and market loans and insurance to them, though this has been repeatedly denied by Net1.
Beneficiaries have complained about unlawful and unauthorised deductions from their accounts and have described problems closing their EasyPay accounts.
Earlier this week MPs in Parliament voiced their concerns about Net1 continuing to provide services to Sassa beneficiaries once the CPS contract comes to an end.
In response to questions about the validity of the green cards once the contract between Sassa and CPS ends, Sassa Western Cape spokesperson Shivani Wahab said that all grant recipients would be given new Sassa cards in 2018 once the new payment contractor had been appointed.
She said the EasyPay accounts could still be used.
On July 24, the Black Sash Trust in partnership with the Witzenberg Rural Development Centre held a meeting in Ceres where beneficiaries could raise problems or close their EasyPay accounts. Officials from Grindrod Bank, Net1 and Sassa were present and set up workstations to deal with beneficiaries.
This was the second meeting in a few weeks.
At the first event, on June 5, which GroundUp attended, Net1 accused the Black Sash of "enticing" grant beneficiaries to the meeting. The company said that the event was "chaotic" and poorly organised.
In response to questions by GroundUp, a statement issued by the Net1 board echoed this view about the event held on July 24.
Net1 said the company had recordings of beneficiaries "calling in to complain that they have been advised by the Black Sash that should they not close their EPE accounts, their grants would be terminated".
Only 82 beneficiaries wanted to close their EasyPay accounts, the board said.
Burt Lynette Maart, Black Sash director, told GroundUp that the organisation had a list of 241 people in the Ceres area who wanted to cancel their EasyPay accounts and go back to using the Sassa card.
Maart acknowledged that the June event had not run as smoothly as the Black Sash had hoped.
She said the process of cancelling the accounts had been delayed because most of the beneficiaries required printed statements from Grindrod before their queries could be addressed.
Maart said the Black Sash had focused on Ceres as an example to show "just how many people" are unhappy with their EasyPay accounts.
"These people can't go to a bank or office when they have queries or get a bank statement from Sassa."
She said beneficiaries who opened an EasyPay account to apply for a loan from Net1 company Moneyline found themselves stuck with the EasyPay card and an insurance policy from another Net1 company, Smartlife, even if the Moneyline loan was refused.
Maart said the Black Sash would ask for clarity from the Constitutional Court on whether the EasyPay accounts would be terminated once the contract with CPS ended in 2018.
The court ruled in March to extend Sassa's five-year contract with CPS until March 2018 while Sassa made other plans, and reinstated the court's supervisory role.
Sassa plans to "phase out" CPS and have a contractor by April 1, 2018 before eventually taking over the payment system itself within five years.
Black Sash regional manager Colleen Ryan said it was a worry that beneficiaries who lived far from Net1 offices were still struggling to get recourse.
"Our monitors are not going to be there when people go to Net1 offices to cancel their cards. They [Net1 officials] will convince them one way or another not to cancel."
In June, Net1 hired advocate Neville Melville as an independent ombudsman to oversee the company's dispute resolution processes. He reports to the independent chair of the Net1 board.
Melville told GroundUp that based on his research so far, he had recommended that Net1 establish an "internal complaint resolution" system. Melville said his title would soon change to Independent Adjudicator for the Net1 Group.
"There is provision in the Financial Services Ombud Schemes Act for a financial institution, or a group of financial institutions to establish an ombud scheme or arrangement. I have drawn up the necessary operating procedures and a customer service charter, both of which have gone through the necessary approval processes at Net1," he said.
Melville acknowledged that the Ceres meetings did "show that there were many people who were frustrated" or that did not know where to go to resolve their queries.
"My office will go some way in addressing this situation. Copies of the customer service charter will be displayed at all relevant points and call centre numbers for the different types of products as well as my number will be displayed," he said.
"I have suggested that a toll-free telephone line be introduced for Net1 complaints. I have been told that this was already under consideration," he said.
Melville said there were 80 people working at Net1's complaints call centre but the centre was overloaded with calls at month end.
He said he would prepare a plan to ensure that beneficiaries understood the terms and risks associated with the Net1 financial products.