Durban - A hi-tech voice recognition system designed to curb social grant fraud has pensioners flummoxed, with many fearing they may not receive their payouts next month.

People who receive grants via their bank accounts will be obliged under the new system to verify their details by telephone every month, but many say their calls are going unanswered.

Scores of pensioners have contacted the Daily News to complain after receiving letters advising them to call the SA Social Service Agency’s (Sassa) dedicated number.

The system uses a toll-free number, but this does not apply to cellphone users, who make up a large portion of the country’s more than 10 million grant recipients.

Phoenix pensioners Runda-samy Perumal, 84, and his wife Pappamah Perumal, 82, said they had no joy calling the toll-free number.

“I have been calling for the past two hours with no response except the answering machine,” said Rundasamy. “The line clearly does not work. It would be a nightmare calling them every month…”

A pensioner who asked not be named, said: “I am now told I must phone 0800 60 01 60 every month. This morning, after losing 30 minutes’ airtime, I still could not reach anyone. This is a hopeless situation and Sassa should be ashamed of the way this has been organised. Surely one can make a permanent arrangement for a transfer. I cannot waste probably 60 minutes of airtime every month.”

A writer to the Daily News’ Backchat column said he was kept on hold for 15 minutes, but eventually hung up.

“It’s crazy that if one wants to continue having the grant deposited into a bank account one has to call the number every month, and ask that this be done. Why can’t the funds be automatically deposited?”

The Daily News sent Sassa a list of questions, but after more than a week, received only a brief reply.

Sassa national spokesman Kgomoco Diseko said they were aware of the problems with the toll-free lines and had subsequently introduced additional lines, which he said had stabilised the situation.

He said that the new innovations, including the voice recognition system and the requirement for bank account holders to call Sassa every month, were part of the Department of Social Development’s efforts to eliminate fraud and corruption.

Daily News