Unemployed people queue for UIF payments. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Unemployed people queue for UIF payments. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

The government’s Covid-19 relief scheme has once again been plagued by technical issues, which resulted in further delays in crucial payments meant to ensure workers affected by the lockdown receive much-needed money.

Business for SA (B4SA) on Wednesday said its representatives at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) informed it that the payment of the Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (Ters) had been suspended.

This was because the auditor-general was looking into problems with the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), which funds the Ters system.

However, the UIF said it was only a 24-hour delay, necessitated by the need to address some weaknesses in the online system that could expose it to potential fraud, and that payments had resumed.

To date the UIF said it had paid out just over R41.1bn to more than more than 9.3-million workers. However, there were 713,593 outstanding payments that were yet to be processed due to mostly outstanding declarations.

The Ters was initially envisaged to cover three months, from April until June, and was established as a key part of the government’s R500bn economic and social relief package to help those affected by the lockdown.

It was announced in July that the benefit would be extended for an extra six weeks until August 15. However, the opening of applications was delayed because a government directive had not been signed and published.

The UIF said it had thus far paid 44,726 of the August applications, which opened last week Monday.

The Ters system was previously hit by a glitch that showed applicants’ confidential information.

Throughout the process, the UIF has been adamant there is no backlog in paying the benefits, despite workers and employers left waiting months for payments. By mid-July, some workers and employers were still waiting for payments from April and May.

UIF commissioner Teboho Maruping said on Wednesday that the suspension of payments was not a new thing.

“We do it all the time, we pick up certain anomalies that increase risk or expose us to potential fraud. There are instances where at the behest of our internal audit and risk management units, we have stopped payments to certain companies when certain deficiencies had been identified,” he said.

Maruping said as the auditor-general was conducting its audit, it made certain observations that the UIF addressed on the spot.

“Sometimes we have to stop our activities to correct the situation as we did with the 24-hour suspension,” he said.

B4SA’s Rob Legh said the organisation was pleased that the payments had now resumed, but was disappointed that the UIF had not informed the public or workers of the delay.

“What has been reported to us is that they picked up that payments are being paid to those who shouldn't be paid,” he said. These were people who were under the age of 16, who were in jail or who had died.

“How that happens we don't know but we have asked for a copy of that [auditor-general ] report,” Legh said.

He said the UIF could not provide the report just yet.

Legh said there would be discussions in the next couple of days, which could see the UIF getting outside assistance in helping improve things.

quintalg@businesslive.co.za

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