Maverick Citizen

FIGHT FOR THE POOR

SRD grant activists forge ahead with legal action against the state unopposed

SRD grant activists forge ahead with legal action against the state unopposed
As food prices surge, the Social Relief of Distress grant no longer protects those who do receive it against hunger as it used to. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Kim Ludbrook)

The legal challenge by the Institute for Economic Justice and #PayTheGrants ‘is our last resort to address the myriad issues of administrative and constitutional injustice that have plagued the SRD grant’.

On Thursday, 19 October, civil society organisations Institute for Economic Justice (IEJ) and #PayTheGrants announced in a statement that they would be proceeding with legal action against the Department of Social Development (DSD) and the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) unopposed after the two state institutions failed to respond or file answering affidavits to the North Gauteng High Court. 

The legal action is challenging Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant regulations that the organisations say are “unlawfully and unconstitutionally excluding millions of people living in poverty”.

In July, the organisations, represented by their lawyers from the Socio-Economic Rights Institute, launched a legal application at the court, citing what they say is the unfair exclusion of millions of people living in poverty from receiving the SRD grant. The application included 79 affidavits from people who are affected by the SRD regulations.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Litigation under way to challenge unfair exclusion of millions from Social Relief of Distress grant

At the heart of the application are the following reasons, according to the organisations, that millions of eligible people are being excluded:

  • The overbroad definition of income used to measure whether an applicant falls below the means-test threshold;
  • Unlawful questions in the online application form;
  • The exclusionary online-only application process;
  • Flawed bank and database verification processes;
  • A narrow appeals process that excludes relevant new evidence;
  • An arbitrary exclusion of qualifying applicants when funds are depleted;
  • A reduction in the grant’s value over time;
  • An irrational and retrogressive income threshold; and
  • Widespread and systemic non-payment of approved beneficiaries.

The case is also seeking relief according to each of the specific circumstances of exclusion.

“Given that the State has missed multiple deadlines to file their answering affidavits, this matter has now been set down for hearing on the unopposed roll on 20 December 2023. This is an urgent matter of critical importance to millions of people in South Africa, and has only grown in urgency since the date of our application, in light of rising rates of food poverty,” the statement said. 

“We are disappointed that the State does not seem to have made this issue a priority, but we look forward to a resolution that upholds the rights of the millions of adults facing hunger without access to social assistance,” said the statement.” 

[The government has] missed two deadlines, and the delay has become completely unreasonable. It shows an apparent unwillingness to prioritise this matter, and a disregard for the desperate and worsening situation of millions of beneficiaries.

IEJ senior researcher Kelle Howson told Daily Maverick: “This application dealt with quite a number of issues so we would expect that the government needed some time to consider them thoroughly and respond. Despite the urgent nature of the issues, we granted their request for an extension to the end of September in recognition of this. However, they have now missed two deadlines, and the delay has become completely unreasonable. It shows an apparent unwillingness to prioritise this matter, and a disregard for the desperate and worsening situation of millions of beneficiaries.”

Asked about the significance of the legal challenge for the millions of SRD grant beneficiaries, Howson said: “This legal challenge is our last resort to address the myriad issues of administrative and constitutional injustice that have plagued the SRD grant. We estimate that these issues have led to approximately 50% of rightful beneficiaries – who live below the food poverty line with no other access to social assistance – being unfairly excluded. In addition, as food prices surge, the SRD grant no longer protects those who do receive it against hunger as it used to. This situation needs to be urgently addressed to uphold people’s basic rights.”

SRD grant

The legal action is challenging Social Relief of Distress grant regulations that the organisations say are ‘unlawfully and unconstitutionally excluding millions of people living in poverty’. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sowetan / Sandile Ndlovu)

No ‘decency’

Speaking to Daily Maverick, Elizabeth Raiters, the deputy chairperson of #PayTheGrants, said people who had not been receiving the grant for months were becoming very desperate. She knew of a mother of three in Port Shepstone who turned to taking her children’s lives  and her own after she hadn’t received the grant for months.

About the government not responding, she said: “They couldn’t even have the decency to respond to us. It means they don’t care about what is happening to people who need that money to survive.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Time to bust the ghosts in the Social Relief of Distress grant machine

Department of Social Development spokesperson Lumka Oliphant told Daily Maverick: “The matter is before the courts and [the department] cannot comment on it.”

Sassa spokesperson Paseka Letsatsi said: “The notice to defend was filed by Sassa and the department filed the notice to oppose.” 

Letsatsi did not respond when asked when the motion to oppose was filed, and what the grounds for the opposition were. DM

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