The Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), working with the Department of Employment and Labour, has temporarily halted payments for the COVID-19 TERS relief benefits, until it addresses the system control concerns recently raised by the Auditor-General.
According to the UIF, this move will not only assist them in dealing with the gaps identified by the AG but also offers the opportunity to ensure that some of the improvements that had already been identified by the management are implemented.
The AG’s damning report earlier this month cast the spotlight on the payment of the temporary employer/employee relief scheme (TERS) and social grants introduced to provide economic relief to the vulnerable and assist employers to protect jobs.
The AG found that the new system implemented for TERS incorrectly calculated the benefits for the first lockdown period between 27 March and 30 April by not taking into account the actual period of inactivity and the portion of the salary paid by employers, resulting in significant overpayments.
“Whilst the AG has shown us a number of deficiencies in the payment of the COVID-19 TERS benefits, I must hasten to add that many of these deficiencies had been picked up already by management.
“Some had already been corrected in the June payments but we will continue to improve the systems so that it responds to the needs of our beneficiaries and make the payments effective and efficient,” said Marsha Bronkhorst, the acting UIF Commissioner.
The Fund has also committed to taking several steps to address the systemic challenges concerning payments.
“We have entered into a Memoranda of Understanding with a number of government institutions to make sure we get access into their updated databases,” said Bronkhorst.
The institutions include the South African Social Security Agency, National Students Financial Aid Scheme and the Department of Home Affairs, which is currently verifying the UIF database to ensure payments reach the correct beneficiaries.
“Secondly, we have updated our system to make sure that the bank verification happens quicker and these include verifications for schools and non-governmental organisations, etc.”
Meanwhile, the UIF is working around the clock to improve its COVID-19 TERS application portal to ensure it becomes a self-service portal to make it user friendly for employers and employees.
Bronkhorst is optimistic that the system should be up and ready to help workers as soon as possible to provide financial relief, especially to those who are still under lockdown conditions.
The acting Commissioner said despite the challenges they are working under, the UIF has delivered in the face of great need.
“To date, the UIF has received just over 1 104 000 applications for the payment of COVID-19 TERS benefits and we have paid 825 840 of these. These payments equate to just under R42 billion, which has been disbursed in 9 501 865 payments to workers around the country.
“As soon as the improvements are finalised, we will be in a position to ensure that workers of this country are provided a cushion to make their lives easier,” she said.
Moreover, the UIF has issued a stern warning that those who defrauded the system will face the full might of the law.
“There are already some cases that we have brought to the SAPS for investigation and prosecution – 35 out of a total of 146,” Bronkhorst said.
She said this serves as a warning to those who may try to defraud the system.
“Not only will it be harder to do so, but even if they do succeed, the law will eventually get them and they will pay for stealing from the workers,” she said.
The Special Investigating Unit has started with its investigation into fraudulent claims and action will be taken against all found involved in fraudulent activities.