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Supreme Court of Appeal rules social grants must be protected

- Lee-Anne Bruce

CALS and Black Sash note SCA ruling that it is up to government to protect social grants from predatory marketing practices and unlawful deductions

The Centre for Applied Legal Studies and the Black Sash Trust note yesterday’s judgment in the Supreme Court of Appeal concerning deductions made from social grants. The Court has ruled that it is up to government to draft legislation that protects social grants from predatory marketing practices and unlawful deductions.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court of Appeal handed down judgment in an appeal brought by SASSA against Net1 and its affiliate companies Money Line, Manje Mobile, FinBond and SmartLife. The matter concerns the interpretation of regulations aimed at limiting deductions from social grants and appeals an earlier decision of the High Court. CALS, on behalf of the Black Sash Trust and six individuals, sought to intervene to highlight the impact of unauthorised debit orders on grant beneficiaries and emphasise the state’s duty to protect social security rights.

In May 2017, the High Court ruled that the regulations developed by SASSA in response to concerns over unauthorised deductions from grants did not prohibit debit orders from beneficiaries’ bank accounts and dismissed our application to intervene in the matter. This judgment was taken on appeal to the Supreme  Court of Appeal, which heard the matter on 16 August 2018.

Yesterday’s judgment emphasises the South African Post Office new Special Disbursement Account (gold card), as the SASSA payment method, does not allow for debit and stop orders, which is one mechanism to stop predatory deductions. The ruling also grants our application to intervene and acknowledges the importance of having legislation in place that does sufficiently protect social grant beneficiaries against “unscrupulous vendors and corrupt activities by employees of service providers.” The judgment concludes that what is urgently needed is legislation that provides “clearly defined, enforceable protective measures to ensure that social grants are not unlawfully depleted.”

“The judgment has sent a clear message that social grant beneficiaries must be protected from abuse and exploitation,” says Wandisa Phama, Acting Deputy Director at CALS. “In granting our application, the Court has also acknowledged the importance of giving beneficiaries of the social assistance programme a voice in the regulations that govern it.”

“We receive thousands of complaints that corporate entities have unjustifiably depleted the social grants of beneficiaries,” says Hoodah Abrahams-Fayker, National Advocacy Manager of Black Sash. “These are not isolated incidents, but endemic across South Africa, affecting millions of beneficiaries. These practices need to be stopped by effective regulations and oversight as the Court suggests.”

Read the full judgment here

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From Black Sash