Since the beginning of lockdown last year, the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) has disbursed R63 billion, bringing relief to about 5.4 million workers across the country.
It has been 17 months since the COVID-19 Temporary Employer / Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) was introduced to save jobs and ease the financial burden on businesses, and most importantly, their vulnerable workers who lost income during the lockdown.
In a statement on Thursday, the Employment and Labour Department said the money paid out is the largest sum that has been paid by government to help workers, businesses and the economy mitigate the impact of the lockdowns.
“Considering the fact that the initial budget was R40 billion, which has now been exceeded by R23 billion, is a remarkable feat by all standards.
“While we celebrate the positive impact of COVID-19 TERS to employers and employees, many pay outs are still outstanding largely due to employers who were none-compliant prior to submitting claims for their workers. In some cases, the delays are as a result of ‘errors’ committed by employers in the process of lodging applications,” the department said.
The department has commended 404 employers, who heeded the recent call to fix errors, which resulted in the payment of R9 633 516.74 to 10 181 employees.
The bulk of errors relate to incorrect banking details; incorrect ID or passport numbers; no declarations found; applications for: deceased, underage, incarcerated, and government employees, and incorrect salary received during lockdown.
Dishonesty and fraudulent acts
The department is concerned over grievances that employers did not pay over the money to their workers.
The department said the first reports of the “Follow the money project”, which was instituted to address accountability on these monies, painted a picture of dishonesty and fraudulent acts by some employers.
“This included employers claiming for employees who are working; employers submitting false claims; money being utilised for personal expenses such as paying for credit cards and buying luxurious cars; [money being] utilised for operating costs, and the employer claiming COVID-19 TERS but still paying employees a full salary, meaning there should have been no TERS claim,” the department said.
The department said it has noted the same tendency appears present in claims for the unrest in parts of KZN and Gauteng in July.
Acting UIF Commissioner, Advocate Mzie Yawa, said: “We have also noted that some have false SAPS case numbers and luckily, our system can pick up through checks that the cases are not genuine. We urge all to act honestly. These are hard earned monies for vulnerable workers, not ‘get rich quick schemes.”
Meanwhile, through collaboration with law enforcement agencies, 18 arrests have already been effected with the latest culprits arrested by the Hawks in Gauteng last week for fleecing the Fund R10 million in COVID-19 TERS payments.
“Following extensive investigations and through the involvement of the ‘Follow the money’ project forensic audits, the suspects were arrested and charged. We are delighted that this project is bearing fruits, as we have been able to recover close to R900 million to the UIF’s coffers,” Yawa said.
Yawa said while the UIF celebrates this achievement, there are still many outstanding claims awaiting correction of errors by employers.
“We have and continue to proactively communicate to employers through letters, calls, webinars, as well as social media guiding them to fix the error codes on the COVID-19 TERS portal, so we can process outstanding claims.
“We are also working with social partners at NEDLAC to help encourage their business members to correct the error codes,” Yawa said.
Yawa said the Fund continuously re-processes claims that are already in the system so that those that have been corrected and have passed validations can be paid when payment re-runs are conducted.
“We are confident that working with NEDLAC social partners, we shall meet our target of having these at zero by the end of December 2021.”
The Fund will increase the frequency of re-running the system to pick up those applications that have been corrected in order to ensure that it meets the target of having a zero outstanding claims by 31 December 2021.
The lists of employers who must fix errors and those that appear to have engaged in fraudulent activities can be found on the department’s website. – SAnews.gov.za