What happens at the SA unemployment fund?

RYK VAN NIEKERK: In the last few weeks I have received numerous inquiries from listeners about the state of affairs at the unemployment insurance fund (UIF). The purpose of the fund is to provide short-term financial relief for South Africans who lose their jobs or are unable to work due to maternity leave or illness. Most of the inquiries were complaints from people who had been waiting for the payout for months, describing the administrative process as an “absolute nightmare”.

I also posted on social media yesterday announcing that I will be speaking to the fund officer about the apparent issues. The response has also been overwhelmingly negative and it is clear that many people do not get paid quickly and that the administrative process is very frustrating.

Teboho Maruping is on the line. He is a representative of the unemployment fund. Teboho, thank you for coming to see me today. Just for context, how many claims does UIF receive in a typical month and how many payments do you make in a typical month?

How UIF payments work

TEBOHO MARUPING: Well, the number of claims varies. We can receive up to 50,000 per month, and on top of that 50,000, like December, we would make about 200,000 payments that we made in December alone. So it varies depending on the economic activities during that period.

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RYK VAN NIEKERK: Do you have a mandated schedule by which to make UIF payments to applicants? Is there a set timeline you want to achieve?

TEBOHO MARUPING: Yes. We run our processes through three different strategies, and each type of service has a schedule. For example, a “deceased” payment takes about 20 days, a maternity [payment] lasts 10 days, unemployment benefit 15 days.

RYK VAN NIEKERK: And do you meet these deadlines?

TEBOHO MARUPING: At the moment we’re sitting at about 85% to 90% target achievement.

RYK VAN NIEKERK: Well I’ve received many complaints about some payments sometimes taking longer than a year. I also posted on social media yesterday saying I will speak to you and the response was also very, very negative. People say the UIF is very, very difficult to deal with and that the payments are very, very late. Are these outliers or, as you just implied, 85% [of target] seems like a good time for these payments. But why do you think there are some people who are really dissatisfied with the performance of the UIF?

Institutional Compliance

TEBOHO MARUPING: I think our biggest challenge as an institution is compliance and the second is fraud. And in the midst of compliance, there are people who want to take advantage of the system and cheat. What also turned out was that during Covid there were people who fraudulently applied for Covid and those people were flagged.

If you apply through this featured campaign, we will not process your payment but will hold it. Or you will find that there are people who have applied for a Sassa grant, for example – and if you are applying for a Sassa grant you should not be employed. If this was the case, you will also be flagged.

So there are a number of issues that would result in an application not being processed in a timely manner.

ALSO READ: UIF has paid out over R1 billion in benefits for the December holiday season

RYK VAN NIEKERK: So of the 15% you don’t pay within the timeframe you alluded to earlier, have you done any research on how many of those claims are fraudulent?

TEBOHO MARUPING: Well, the second [fraud] could make up about 5% of that population. And the rest of the 15% mostly concerns violations.

RYK VAN NIEKERK: The administrative process also seems to be a nightmare. How efficient do you think this management system is?

TEBOHO MARUPING: I think 85% to 90% reflects how effective we are and I think we can do a lot better. In fact, by the end of January this year we will be introducing the UIF and the USSD [Unstructured Supplementary Service Data] platform just to further simplify our processes.

Complaints about UIF are piling up

RYK VAN NIEKERK: I’m looking at some of the complaints I’ve received. A lady says she has been waiting for a payment for more than a year and has not received any communication from the UIF. Another says: “I’m waiting six months. I tried to follow up on a claim but it just wouldn’t go through. I just can’t get any clarity as to why it wasn’t approved.’ For example, how large is your call center to handle these complaints?

TEBOHO MARUPING: The good thing is that we started with about 50 agents and then we moved our call center. We hired a service provider that employs about 500 call center agents because we understood that the number of calls we received was increasing and that’s why we increased the number of agents to 500 agents.

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RYK VAN NIEKERK: Do you currently have 500 agents?

TEBOHO MARUPING: Yes, now 500 agents. That’s the extent [to which] We’ve now improved access [for] the public.

RYK VAN NIEKERK: Do you have any performance metrics to monitor how efficient you are at making payments to people – specifically the 15% you don’t pay within the timeframes, the 15 and 20 days you alluded to earlier?

TEBOHO MARUPING: Yes. We often give the customer a maximum of 14 days to fix what we may have collected.

But some of the employers are hard to find. For example, suppose you worked specifically for that radio station, but your previous employer didn’t report you. That is, if you come and apply, we have to repair these credits, and then even go to the previous employer. Or if we were to pay you your current balance – the credits you might have at that point – we could pay you a very small amount. And that’s not what UIF is about. It’s about making sure people survive the most difficult time of pregnancy [leave] or unemployment, and will not pay you R5 when we can pay you R2,000.

RYK VAN NIEKERK: I see the text messages pouring in, people saying, ‘Listen, we’ve been waiting for months and months.’ What’s your message to people who say they’ve been waiting for a payout for more than a year? How should they tackle this problem?

TEBOHO MARUPING: Okay, I’ll try to see if I can give you our call center number. Are you still there, sir?

RYK VAN NIEKERK: I’m here. I will now google the call center number. But what is your advice? Call the call center?

TEBOHO MARUPING: Yes, they have to call the call center and when they call the call center the cases are escalated to a well functioning office that handles their cases.

RYK VAN NIEKERK: Well, we have to leave it at that – “a well-functioning call center”. Sir, thank you for your time. I think we can escalate some of these complaints to your office and hopefully they will be resolved soon.

That was Teboho Maruping, the commissioner of the unemployment fund.

This article originally appeared on Moneyweb and has been republished with permission.
Read the original article here.

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