The Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (Ters) has resumed payments of the Covid-19 Benefits after a 24-hour delay, caused by the need to address control deficiencies in the online payment system.
In a statement released on Wednesday afternoon, the UIF Commissioner Teboho Maruping said halting payments is the “usual step” when the UIF picks up problems.
Read: UIF Ters benefit suspended once again
“…whether in relation to governance or to further stress-test and enhance the system, the payments get suspended to deal with the matter at hand for a certain period,” Maruping said.
As part of a wider Covid-19 probe on state organs, the UIF is being audited by the Auditor-General South Africa (AGSA).
The AGSA team had observed some “control deficiencies and anomalies” in the system, which prompted the immediate suspension of payments.
AGSA picked up inconsistencies regarding past payments made to people who are deceased, imprisoned, or who are minors.
“The suspension of payments is not a new thing to the fund. We do it all the time we pick up certain anomalies that increase risk or expose us to potential fraud. There are instances where at the behest of our Internal Audit and Risk Management Units, we have stopped payments to certain companies when certain deficiencies had been identified. This is part of our governance framework,” Maruping said.
Maruping said as the AG performs its audit and make observations, the department will address them immediately.
“We have to stop our activities to correct the situation as we did with the 24-hour suspension,” Maruping said.
Maruping added that he recognises the possible negative impact this might have had on millions of workers who rely on the Benefit for income due to the Covid-19 impact on their jobs.
“We would like to appeal to our contributors to bear with us because these intermissions are designed to make the Fund stronger so that it can continue doing its work of providing sustenance to workers in their time of need,” Maruping said.
Business for South Africa had expressed its ‘disappointment’ that the UIF stopped payments pending investigations by the AGSA.
It said that it learned about the investigating system integrity problems at the UIF related to the Ters system from its representatives at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac).
“None of the already significantly delayed payments on claims for the July/August period, for which claims opened only on 17 August, have been made. And the catching up on backlog payments going back as far as April has also been halted,” it says.
It says it strongly supports the mitigation of fraud risks and urges that criminal charges should be brought against all alleged perpetrators, but it is against the “poor communication” by the department.
“The unilateral halting of all payments, and the very poor communication of the situation by the UIF leadership, is grossly unfair to all employees and their employers who have legitimate claims. That the UIF system is incapable of remedying the relatively small number of fraudulent claims without disadvantaging the millions of legitimate claimants is an indictment on the UIF system,” B4SA said.
B4SA further notes that UIF call centre capacity has been radically reduced as of last week, it says this will undoubtedly create additional challenges for the resolution of queries.
“B4SA has been urging the UIF for some time to engage meaningful third-party support. A team from B4SA members is lined up to assist on a pro bono basis, but so far this offer has not been taken up. Urgent intervention is required,” it says.
Listen: Werksmans labour law specialist Sandile July explains to Nompu Siziba how UIF Ters scheme applicants may still apply for the benefit, given a new directive (or read the transcript here):