Welfare organisations get a lifeline via High Court ruling

Published May 27, 2024


In a victory judgment for non-profit organisations which offer welfare services to vulnerable people, the Gauteng High Court, Johannesburg this week ordered the Department of Social Development to pay NPOs so that they could continue with their services.

The court granted an order directing the department to finalise the adjudication of applications submitted by Gauteng social work NPOs to the department in November last year.

The department was given until yesterday (Friday) to do so and it must make payments to those NPOs who have already signed their service-level agreements by the end of May.

The court went further and imposed judicial supervision over the department to monitor the implementation of the order.

These NPOs, which include House Otto Self-help Centre for Quadriplegics, Impumelelo Self-help Centre, Remme-los Residential Care and Independent Living and Central Gauteng Mental Health Society, were at risk of imminent closure if the court did not come to their aid.

This is because, despite the department confirming that the NPOs are eligible for subsidies, they have not yet been paid.

The NPOs Section27 provides essential services, including residential facilities for persons with mental disabilities, mental health disorders, paraplegia and quadriplegia.

Many of the organisations provide services such as community outreach, counselling, psychiatric evaluation, and protective workshops that are crucial for the safety and development of persons with disabilities.

Because of a new process implemented by the department last year to select NPOs to fund, the process of informing NPOs of whether their annual funding applications have been successful and sending out service-level agreements had been delayed this year. This has resulted in the payment of funds being delayed.

After a meeting held between Section27, the NPOs and departmental officials last month, the NPOs have been receiving their SLAs, although not for many of the essential programmes they offer, and some of the SLAs received had issues.

The SLAs without issues had been signed and returned to the department. However, payment has still not been made to these organisations, despite being made aware that the NPOs were on the brink of closure, with no plan regarding the vulnerable in their care.

Section27, meanwhile, welcomed the court order and said it is a huge win for NPOs and the beneficiaries they provide essential services to.

Last month, the department told Section27 that most of their clients’ funding applications were approved, and that they were provided with service-level agreements (SLAs).

However, up until the court’s ruling this week, none of the NPOs had received payments in line with the SLAs that they signed and returned to the department last month.

Section27 said over the past two months, various dates were provided by the department as to when the NPOs could expect payment and, on each occasion, the department had failed to meet its undertakings.

While waiting for their payment, some were forced to sell their assets, such as immovable properties and vehicles, just to keep their doors open for these two months. Some also had to reduce the services they provide to the vulnerable population they serve.

Section27 said the court’s decision came at a time when these NPOs were on the brink of shutting down.

“They are now vindicated. They can now negotiate with their staff members who have been refusing to work due to non-payment of April salaries and or fear that May salaries might not be paid.”

Section27 said as soon as the department made payment, they would be able to pay their staff for April and May, pay their municipal bills, and buy food for the people they continued to serve.

“We hope that the department sees this as a wake-up call. This crisis, as we have mentioned before, is nothing but a self-constructed disaster by the department through its dysfunction.”

Section27 said MEC Mbali Hlophe and the Gauteng Government needed to address this dysfunction to fix the current crisis and ensure this never happened again.

“There are strong parallels between what might occur if NPOs are not paid imminently by the department and what occurred in the Life Esidimeni tragedy. Lives are on the line because of the department’s administrative chaos and NPOs and the Gauteng Care Crisis Committee have been warning the department of this for some time.”

Section27 said instead of addressing the potential looming human rights disaster, the department accused NPOs of politicking and requested them to “be patient”.

“Hopefully, the department learns from past disasters, such as the Life Esidimeni tragedy, that the lives of beneficiaries must be put first. This is their constitutional mandate.”

Section27 encourages the department to comply with the court order and finalise all the successful applications as ordered by the court and without any delays.

Pretoria News