New SRD grant regulations ‘will see many existing beneficiaries being excluded’

Civil society organisations including the Black Sash, #PayTheGrants, the Social Policy Initiative and the Institute for Economic Justice are calling for urgent clarification from the Department of Social Development (DSD) around new regulations related to the Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant – regulations that they claim run the risk of excluding many existing beneficiaries.

New regulations for the R350-a-month SRD grant were published by the department on Friday (April 22).

Read: Sassa not processing new applications for the R350 Covid grant

The DSD stated that the grant, which was initially provided for under the since-lifted Covid-19 national state of disaster regulations, will now be provided for under a new legislative framework within its Social Assistance Act.

Applications for the grant are to be completed digitally before the 15th of the month and applicants will be considered for the grant from the month in which the application is submitted. This will be validated every month.

The DSD further announced that additional qualifying and assessment criteria have been added and that those who were receiving the Covid-19 SRD grant previously will have to reapply for it.

But the four civil society groups are not happy about the changes and raised concerns about the matter in a statement issued late on Monday.

“It appears that by suspending April processing and payments, and now wiping the slate clean of previously approved grant obligations, the April SRD grants are in jeopardy for millions of South Africans,” the groups warn.

Social relief grant will be impossible to withdraw – Sachs
Social grants: the research behind the controversy

The civil society partners are seeking clarity from the DSD regarding the obscurity of grant payments in April as well as whether those who apply under the new framework will be paid for the month of April.

“Moreover, and even more egregious, the published regulations have dropped the income eligibility threshold for the SRD from the food poverty line [R624], to R350 – meaning people are now only eligible to receive the SRD grant if their income is below R350 per month,” the groups say.

“That is shocking, inhumane, regressive, and leaves millions of people living below the food poverty line ineligible for government assistance.

“This also means that hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries who previously fell below the threshold and qualified, will now not qualify for the SRD grant under the reduced threshold,” the groups point out.

Concerns not addressed 

The civil society partners say their concerns, penned and raised on Friday ahead of the DSD’s announcement, have not been addressed in the newly published regulations.

“In fact, the final regulations are a huge step backwards on what was contained previously.”

Their written requests included an urgent update on the status of payments and SRD application processes. They have further demanded that immediate provision be made for continued payment and the recommencement of application processing.

Meanwhile, the DSD’s plan to publish draft provisions for basic income support in 2024, as revealed in a recent annual performance plan presentation to parliament’s portfolio committee, has been unsettling for the civil society partners.

Read: 20 years later government still ‘discussing’ basic income grant

This is due to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that the Covid-19 SRD grant will be extended for a year only – from April 2022 to March 2023.

“While woefully little, it is many people’s only lifeline against starvation,” according to the civil society grouping.

Their full demands, as delivered to the DSD on Friday prior to the gazetting of the new regulations, are as follows:

  • The DSD to comply with its mandate under the Social Assistance Act to provide for the vulnerable.
  • A public communication to provide an urgent update on the status of SRD grants for April.
  • Direct communication to beneficiaries who are on the existing database in relation to the status of their SRD grants.
  • The urgent publication of the new regulations under the Social Assistance Act to empower the payment of SRD grants, where due consideration has been given to the submissions made by civil society to address the challenges with the grant.
  • Clarity as to how basic income support will be provided to the most vulnerable, including SRD beneficiaries, immediately following the expiry of the SRD grant in March 2023.

Nondumiso Lehutso is a Moneyweb intern.