New regulations to the social relief distress (SDR) grant put in place more checks and balances to ensure that those who qualify for the grant receive it over those who do not.

In a recent standing committee on health and social services on Tuesday (23 August), the Department of  Social Development and the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) met to report on the grant and its interventions.

Brenton van Vrede, the chief director of the Department of Social Developments, in a presentation to Parliament, said that a new condition had been added to the regulations governing the grant.

He said that the condition requires clients not to ‘unreasonably refuse’ to accept employment or educational opportunities if offered.

Sassa has been on a drive to further improve and develop its data collection services to ensure that applicants are properly screened before being granted the relief.

Questions when onboarding applicants can assist in determining the work and education history of an applicant. Some of the questions inclide:

  • When the applicant last worked;
  • How the applicant usually sustains themselves, and;
  • Whether the applicant is employed, receiving other forms of income, etc.

Sassa is in the process of entering into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Public Works as well as the Employment and Labour to facilitate data sharing and exchanges between the parties, said van Vrede.

Alongside the new condition, after an applicant’s banking status is checked to see if they are under the threshold applicable to the grant, a new requirement has been inserted to ensure continual confirmation by an applicant.

Under the new provision, van Vrede said that an applicant is required to confirm every three months whether or not they still require the grant.

He said this is to enable Sassa to pick up changes to the client’s status, which may be missed as a result of infrequent data checks.

“It will encourage more active engagement between the client and Sassa, and it defaults the client to “not requiring a grant” if they do not re-engage every three months.”

According to Sassa, as of 2 August, 11.8 million South Africans applied for the grant, and of that, 4.7 million received payment.

Earlier this month (16 August), the Department of Social Development gazetted changes to the regulations governing the payout of the grant.

The department increased the income threshold for the means test from R350 to the food poverty line of R624 per month.

The social relief grant has, however, faced backlash from business figureheads and governments alike, deeming it unsustainable and unaffordable.

Previously, the grant would not have been available to anyone who received or earned more than R350 per month. This threshold has been moved to R624 with the revised adjustment, and more persons are now eligible.

Who applies?

The Department of Social Development, drawing from data received in collaboration with Sassa, reported that many of the applicants have different ways to meet their monthly basic needs.

According to van Vrede, the majority of South Africans who apply for the grant, approximately 5.1 million, rely on a family member in the household to support them (43%) or a family member outside the household to support them (13%, 1.5 million people).

Other methods include borrowing from friends, causal work, informal money lenders, the social grant itself, savings or paid employment.

In terms of work, the majority of grant applicants are unemployed South African who are actively searching for a job (54%), followed by self-employed individuals (11%).

Alternative avenues of daily activity include being an unpaid intern for a family business, looking after children at home, helping a family member with their business without pay or being a student.

Van Vrede reported that of the applicants who receive the grant, it is mostly used to buy food, electricity, clothing and transport. 80% believe that despite the grant being small, it has made a positive difference in their lives.

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