Pensioner, Ballerina September and her elderly aunt, Hilda, are devastated after R300 of their pension grant has been deducted for the past three months and they are not being assisted to stop the deductions. Picture: Soraya Crowie

Kimberley - Social grant beneficiaries here are at their wits end following continuous unauthorised deductions from their accounts.

Beneficiaries said on Monday that deductions of R200 for electricity and a further R100 for airtime were being authorised without their permission.

Ballerina September, who is taking care of her elderly bedridden aunt, said both her and her aunt had money deducted from their accounts.

"Since June this year there have been deductions totalling R300 on our grants... R100 was for airtime and R200 for electricity. I asked the people at the pay point about the deductions and they said I must enquire at Sassa's offices.

"I went there several times and was advised to make affidavits stating that I had no knowledge of the deductions, but nothing has been done about it. I also went to Cash Paymaster Services but they too were unable to provide any clarity on the matter. I was sent from pillar to post but nobody has been able to give us any answers," said September.

She said that the deductions had hit them hard.

"Because of the deductions I am only receiving just over R1 100, instead of the R1 500 that we are entitled to each month. Some may see it as a measly amount, but the reality is that someone is stealing thousands of rands out of our accounts.

"The deductions have made it very difficult to sustain a living. The R1 500 is little enough to live on in the first place, without any deductions. I have to take care of my 89-year-old aunt and all her needs are provided for out of the grant we receive. We both end up walking away with a large chunk of our money missing each month," she said.

Charlotte Speek said her father had been experiencing the same problem over the last year.

"My father was also told to make affidavits stating that he had not authorised the electricity and airtime deductions. The beneficiaries are being asked about the problem, yet the deductions are being made even before any withdrawals are made. This means that the person taking the money knows exactly when the money is deposited into the beneficiaries' accounts. It can only be someone who has access to the accounts or the system," she said.

Sheila Nkosi said deductions were being made from her children's grants.

"I am supposed to get R700, however, I have only been receiving R370 for the past four years. I have reported the matter to Sassa and the CPS on several occassions. They keep saying they will investigate and call me. I am still waiting for the call and nobody is able to tell me who or where these deductions are being authorised from," said Nkosi.

She said her children's lives were being affected by this.

"I am not able to buy my children the essentials due to this problem. I cannot even do anything with the money because it is so little. We have not been provided with any answers on whether the matter is being resolved or who the culprit is," she said.

Sassa said it would give feedback on the matter on Tuesday.

The Department of Social Development announced earlier this year that, from June 1 2016, nobody would be allowed to deduct any money from a South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) beneficiary's account - with only one exception.

According to the department's acting director general, Thokozani Magwazi, the only deduction allowed would be for one funeral policy, and it could only be taken off the grant of a pensioner. It could also not be worth more than 10 percent of the total grant.

No deductions would be allowed on any other SA Social Security Agency account holder.

This was in line with an amendment to the Social Assistance Act in May to stop companies from dipping into money that vulnerable people need for food and clothes.

It came after thousands of complaints from beneficiaries that money was being deducted for things like airtime credit, pre-paid electricity and micro-loans - sometimes without their permission.

The department found that funeral policies were even being deducted from children's grants and believed that it was now able to put a stop to this.

At the time, the executive director for grants at Sassa, Dianne Dunkerly, said that the department was also beefing up its dispute resolution mechanisms to deal with the growing number of complaints about unauthorised deductions, which were almost impossible to resolve or cancel.

The department's clampdown came shortly after the Hawks, the Special Investigating Unit and Sassa's fraud unit arrested 14 people - including Sassa employees and Cash Paymaster Services employees - for alleged grant fraud.

The arrests were part of an investigation involving 4 778 fraudulent social grants worth over R34 million.

Payment company Net 1 has challenged the amendments in court. Net 1 said the regulations limited direct deductions from social grants paid to beneficiaries.

The company said it interpreted the meaning of the word "deductions" to be specific to the practice of collecting life insurance premiums from grants, before they are paid into bank accounts.

The company believed the legislation did not intend to curtail the right of beneficiaries to transact freely once the money was deposited into their bank accounts.

Grindrod Bank remained adamant that Sassa had misinterpreted the amended regulations. Managing director David Polkinghorne said that, adhering to Sassa's interpretation, would put Grindrod Bank in conflict with the requirements of the National Payment Systems rules.

He said they were seeking clarity from the courts of the interpretation of the new regulations.

"We are extremely sensitive to the plight of grant recipients, which includes their right of access to financial services as well as protection from unscrupulous industry participants.

"We have actively engaged regulatory stakeholders, such as the South African Reserve Bank and Payments Association of South Africa, to establish a practical solutions to give effect to the rights of grant beneficiaries," said Polkinghorne

The court case between Net 1, associated companies and the government has drawn in activists who say the regulations allow financial services companies to take advantage of people who often do not understand what they are agreeing to when they assent to deductions from their grants.

Net 1 claims that the amendments interfere with the rights of people to make their own financial decisions. The case will be heard next month.

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"Since June this year there have been deductions totalling R300 on our grants."