Court Action Launched To Challenge R350 Grant Criteria

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A social support grant that was introduced to alleviate extreme poverty may not be reaching its intended beneficiaries. Civil society groups are pursuing legal action as they believe that the eligibility criteria for the grant are excluding millions of vulnerable people from receiving the grant.


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The Institute for Economic Justice (IEJ), #PayTheGrants, and Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI) have launched an application in the Pretoria High Court to challenge the regulations for the Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant. The groups believe that some of the regulations are exclusionary.

The SRD grant, commonly referred to as the R350 grant, was introduced in 2020 to assist unemployed people whose prospects for employment were nearly impossible due to lockdowns. 

At one point, the R350 grant was being paid to more than 12 million vulnerable people living in South Africa, however, only around 7.5 million are benefitting from the grant. 

IEJ Director Gilad Isaacs suggested that the Department of Social Development (DSD) was tasked with deliberately excluding eligible R350 grant applicants. 

Due to budgetary constraints for the 2023/2024 financial year, there is only enough money for 8.5 million people to get the grant out of the approximately 16.5 million who are eligible. Isaacs says the DSD tightened the regulations under which the grant is provided to remain within the budget.

Its [R350 grant] been through a few iterations after that and our challenge is very specific on elements of those which deliberately exclude those whom it is targeted at. 

Change In Grant Regulations 

In 2022, the regulations under which the R350 grant is provided changed. The grant was initially provided under the Disaster Management Act, however, when President Cyril Ramaphosa ended the National State of Disaster, the legislation under which the grant is provided changed to the Social Assistance Act. 

When legislation under which the grant changed, so did the R350 grant eligibility criteria. One of the major changes was the adjustment of the income threshold for the grant. 

The Income Definition For The R350 Grant Labeled Exclusionary 

In terms of the R350 grant, income refers to the money a person has in their bank account. The current income threshold for the grant is R624 meaning that if a R350 grant applicant has more than R624 in their bank account, their application for the grant will be rejected. 

The crux of the issue lies in the definition of "income" used to determine eligibility. The IEJ along with #PayTheGrants and SERI contend that the current definition is too broad, including financial support received from family and friends. 

They propose that "income" should only encompass money derived from employment, business activities, or investments.

The application also challenges how Sassa verifies income through databases, including those of the South African Revenue Service (SARS), the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, and the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF).

They argue that these databases are inaccurate and want the court to declare the database verification unlawful and unconstitutional. In addition, they argue that Bank verification does not take into account fluctuations in the income of the recipients, they say and are calling for the court to prohibit bank verification.

Challenges With R350 Grant Applications And Appeals 

Prospective R350 grant beneficiaries can only apply for the R350 grant online via the SRD grant website. If their application is rejected, they may submit a R350 grant appeal. It's important to note that this appeal can only be submitted online. 

The IEJ and #Paythegrants argue that restricting the submission of R350 grant applications and appeals to online platforms prevent some applicants from accessing devices or the internet and are therefore calling for the allowance of in-person applications.

Only a small percentage of appeals lodged between July and October 2022 were successful. The groups contend that the current "narrow appeals process" obstructs applicants from presenting new evidence to bolster their claims, making it both irrational and unreasonable.

Joleen Sampson, a resident of Eldorado Park in Gauteng, revealed that they received regular R350 grant payments since the grant was introduced. However, in March 2023, they stopped receiving grant payments. 

Sampson says her R350 grant application status changed to declined after Sassa’s verification checks erroneously detected that they had an alternative income. This is particularly concerning as Sampson is unemployed and now received no government support. 

Early in 2020, I applied for the grant, and my application was approved. Payments came regularly until March 2023. After this, my application status changed to declined, due to the system erroneously detecting an alternative source of income, but I am unemployed.

Calls For The Grant Value To Be Increased 

The court application also calls for the grant and income threshold for eligibility to be increased to take inflation and the cost of living into account. The monetary value of the grant has not increased since its implementation and remains at R350 grant. 

The inadequacy of the grant's value is further emphasised by Vanessa Reece, another R350 grant beneficiary who submitted a supporting affidavit. Reece is unable to secure employment due to chronic health challenges. They say since developing diabetes, they found it harder to maintain good health. 

No one in my household is employed, making it even harder to manage both my health and financial situation.

The R350 grant is critical for Reece as it helps them purchase the right food to manage their diabetes. However, the R350 is simply not enough for them to purchase food and toiletries. 

As the court application progresses, the outcomes will have far-reaching implications for addressing poverty and ensuring that the most vulnerable receive the essential support they urgently require. 

 

Suggested Article:

SASSA grant money.

The South African Social Security Agency distributes social grants to millions of people each month. These individuals rely on monthly Sassa payments to purchase their most basic needs.  

 

 


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