UIF disputes favouring Ters benefit claimants

A woman carries a chair on her head after she queued for several hours to reach a distribution of hampers, masks, soap and sanitiser organised by different charities at the Iterileng informal settlement near Laudium, Pretoria, on May 20, 2020. (Photo by MARCO LONGARI / AFP)

Many of its members have however expressed dissatisfaction with the fund, with some not receiving payments for such claims dating far back as March 2020.

The Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) says it has not been neglecting those applying for unemployment, maternity and illness benefits since the introduction of the Covid-19 Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme (Ters).

Many of its members have however expressed dissatisfaction with the fund, with some not receiving payments for such claims dating far back as March 2020.

UIF spokesperson Makhosonke Buthelezi says the fund’s only challenge is that it has not been able to operate at full staff capacity due to the lockdown regulations, adding that it has paid more than R6 billion in normal benefits to over a million beneficiaries since the lockdown was implemented.

“The UIF has not sidelined normal claims,” says Buthelezi.

“There are restrictions as to how many employees could be at the workplace during the lockdown, therefore, just like any employer, we adhere to the one-third rule as outlined in the regulations and that affects our ability to service our clients 100%.”

He advises applicants whose claims have not yet been processed, as well as those who wish to submit new applications, to visit Department of Labour offices from Monday (September 21), as they will be fully operational under Alert Level 1.

He points out that there is however still a limit on the number of clients permitted inside the offices at a time.

Application process

Buthelezi says the department has not changed the application process due to the lockdown.

“During Alert Level 5, we encouraged our clients to lodge their claims via uFilling and published a guide on the Department of Labour website to assist them.”

He says applicants could also drop off their claims in boxes made available at the department’s offices.

“Another measure we put in place to assist clients who could not go to labour centres to sign continuation forms due to the shutdown was to send them SMS messages for them to confirm if they were still unemployed and that their banking details haven’t changed.

“Upon receiving this confirmation, then we would just pay,” Buthelezi says.

He adds that all claims need to adhere to the stipulated criteria in order to be processed — including maternity benefit claims.

“All benefit claims are treated equally, however, if there is a pregnant client in the queue – the rule is that they should be prioritised.”

Buthelezi assures those who have applied for maternity leave benefits, as well as those who are already on maternity leave and have not yet received their payments, that they will be paid.

“They will qualify for the maternity claim and will be paid even if they’ve gone back to work,” he says. “Remember, you have 12 months to claim for maternity benefits.”

Companies scamming workers

There have been numerous allegations of companies not paying employees their Ters benefits or taking a portion of the money for themselves.

Buthelezi warns these companies that the fund will deal with them. He says there are measures in place to safeguard workers from being scammed by companies.

“We are appointing a team of audit companies to trace the payments made on each and every employer we have paid the benefit to.”

He adds that companies are required to provide the fund with proof of payment to the intended beneficiaries if requested to do so.

“If it is clear that they did not do that, they will have to refund the money – failing which we shall take them to court,” Buthelezi says.

Employees who suspect they are being scammed by their employers do have a way of finding out whether this is indeed the case.

They can see the payments the fund has made to them, based on the details supplied by their employer, by going to the Ters benefit portal, clicking on My Payment Status, and entering their identity number.

“However, it should be noted that the amount reflected on the portal may not ultimately be the one they receive, especially where the employer has paid an advance and now has to be reimbursed,” says Buthelezi.

Retrenchment processes

It is no secret that an increasing number of companies plan to cut jobs due to being hard-hit by the pandemic.

Section 189(2) of the Labour Relations Act must be followed when considering retrenchments at a company. However, Buthelezi says Gauteng province has started a process where it proactively sends a spreadsheet to businesses that are planning to retrench.

By filling in the spreadsheet the company will have started the administrative process behind the scenes, so that by the time retrenchments are affected, this can be done as smoothly as possible. “I am aware that they have done that with some companies, and this works efficiently.”

Buthelezi has also clarified an important point: a company that verbally informs its employees of its intention to retrench staff is breaking the law.

Companies that have implemented reduced working hours should apply for Ters relief, the benefit period of which has been extended to October 15, he adds.

It is also important for applicants to check the new closing dates, as well as the new directives.

The fund has however suspended Ters benefit payments following an investigation by the Auditor-General which found that millions of rands were being paid out to people who are not eligible for the relief, including those who receive social grants, prisoners, foreigners and children younger than 15. The suspension came into effect on September 10.

It is verifying information on the UIF database against the South African Social Security Agency, National Students Financial Aid Scheme and the Department of Home Affairs, to ensure payments reach the correct persons.

Buthelezi could not say when payment of Ters benefits will resume.

“It’s difficult to say how long the beneficiaries would have to wait because we’re awaiting feedback from other government departments and entities that are helping the UIF with the verification of information.”

Ters benefits are handled at UIF headquarters and applied for through the Covid-19 Ters portal, whereas normal benefit claim applications can be submitted at labour centres and via the uFiling portal.

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