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‘Disaster in the making’

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Desperate residents unable to access UIF relief.

KIMBERLEY residents are running out of money and food because they are struggling to process Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) claims during the lockdown period, while projections are that the Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) fund that was set up to assist businesses does not have sufficient funds to cover all claims.

Local businesses wishing to access the TERS benefits are experiencing problems in applying for funding as the Department of Employment and Labour offices have been closed to the public due to social distancing regulations.

An unemployed city resident said he was not able to complete his UIF application electronically.

“The doors are closed and no one is answering the landline telephones. I submitted my documents to the Department of Labour on March 6, where I was assured that I should not stress. Since then my claim was rejected and I was told to file an appeal. “

He added that e-mails sent both the provincial and national office remained unanswered.

“They promised to reply via SMS but I have not received any response. The uFiling system and toll-free line are out of order. I don’t know what to do I am desperate because I have no income or food. There is supposed to be a skeleton staff at the office but there is no means of contacting them.”

The CEO of the Northern Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Sharon Steyn, said yesterday that a number of local businesses had reported that they were unable to submit online claims to the Department of Employment and Labour.

“Businesses are not able to access the links provided and there is no communication regarding why they are not in operation or alternatives provided,” said Steyn.

There is also no indication as to when the TERS claims will be paid out or how backlogs will be processed.

“Businesses will have to find another source of funding if no payments are forthcoming from the TERS. It will be disastrous if the lockdown is extended, as most businesses have indicated that they will not be able to hold out for longer than another month. Businesses are still obliged to pay rent, rates and taxes and salaries, even if they have been closed.”

The DA spokesperson for Employment and Labour, Dr Michael Cardo, indicated that the UIF had, to date, only processed 136 applications for the Covid-19 TERS benefit.

“This is a disaster in the making. The South African Revenue Service (Sars) must be brought in to assist or take over the administration of the scheme immediately,” said Cardo.

He added that 36 000 applications had been submitted to the UIF of which 15 755 were apparently duplicate applications.

“Only 16 534 applications were submitted correctly. On Saturday, 23 000 companies were told to resubmit their applications in the correct file format.”

Cardo indicated that many small business owners did not have the expertise or technological know-how in order to comply with “onerous filing requirements”.

“Moreover, they are finding it difficult to get rapid feedback or assistance from the UIF because the institution’s systems are overwhelmed.”

He pointed out that in the normal course of business, Sars collected UIF money paid over by employers and transferred it to the UIF.

“Sars has the tax records of all employees on their systems as well as the bank account details of employers and employees. Sars needs to be brought in immediately to ensure that employers and employees will have cash in the bank at month end.”

The deputy director of UIF communication at the Department of Employment and Labour, Lungelo Mkamba, indicated that they were continually assessing the situation, as their actuaries had advised that the UIF had insufficient funds for the lockdown period.

“They will continue assessing the situation and advise us accordingly.”

He said claims would be processed during and after the lockdown.

“For ordinary UIF benefits we have already paid out R350 million. Claims submitted by businesses who are in arrears with UIF contributions will be assessed on their own merits and facts. This may include asking the employer to sign an acknowledgement of debt letter and payment arrangement plan.”

Mkamba stated that all labour centres were closed to clients in line with social distancing and government regulations to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“The lockdown is an extraordinary situation and we are doing our best under the circumstances through our electronic platforms to process claims with speed. These platforms include www.ufiling.co.za and fax or e-mail for normal benefits and SMS functionality for continuation of payments for normal claims and https://uifecc.labour.gov.za/covid19/ online system for Covid19 claims.”

He stated that skeleton staff were at their desks at provincial stations as well as head office in Pretoria.

“Staff are attending to telephonic enquiries, processing and paying UIF claims to clients to ease the financial burden on our workers during this difficult period.”

He added that as of April 13,

39 000 Covid-19 claims were received of which 16 000 were duplicates.

“Claims are being processed. A total of 23 000 claims did not meet the requirements and e-mails have been sent to the applicants. The

16 000 claims are currently in various stages of the approval processes. We encourage employers to use our seamless and easy to use online system https://uifecc.labour.gov.za/covid19/ to submit Covid-19 claims or to contact our toll-free line 080 003 0007 for enquiries.”

He explained that the UIF had relaxed adherence to its processes by allowing claims to be paid without mandatory source documents for those clients who are already receiving payment benefits from the fund.

“Clients who are receiving unemployment insurance benefits are normally expected to go to labour centres on a monthly basis to sign a continuation form, which serves as proof that the client is still unemployed. To avoid movement and reduce contact, clients will be contacted via short message service (SMS) functionality for them to confirm unemployment status and banking details. The SMS functionality will only be implemented in the lockdown period.”

Mkamba stated that new claims applications for normal UIF benefits, such as unemployment reduced work time, maternity, illness, adoption, and parental leave, should be sent either by e-mail to [email protected] or fax 086 439 7309.

“Claims applications can also be done online at www.uFiling.co.za, the guide to electronic claims is available on www.labour.gov.za.”

He said employers who were unable to pay the full salaries of workers during the lockdown period could apply for the Covid-19 Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme.

“Employers are advised to send their applications to [email protected] Any enquiries about the scheme can be directed to

0800 030 007, which operates during the week, Monday to Friday, between 8am until 5pm.”