SASSA vows to meet its disability grant deadline

Virtual medical assessments will speed up the process, Western Cape legislature told

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Queues at a SASSA office in Bellville, Cape Town, in January. Archive photo: Mary-Anne Gontsana

  • SASSA has rolled out virtual medical assessments to speed up the disability grant application process in the Western Cape.
  • More than 31,000 people must still be assessed before SASSA’s deadline of end-March.
  • General manager Sibusiso Nhlangothi told the Western Cape legislature that SASSA was confident it would meet the deadline.

The South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) is confident that the backlog of assessments for disability grants in the Western Cape will be cleared by the deadline of 31 March, general manager Sibusiso Nhlangothi told the Western Cape legislature this week. He said virtual medical assessments were being used to speed up the process.

Temporary disability and care dependency grants were due to lapse in February last year but due to the Covid-19 lockdown, the grants were extended to 31 December by social development Minister Lindiwe Zulu. SASSA has said it cannot afford to extend all grants further. Beneficiaries have been urged to re-apply at SASSA offices with a detailed doctor’s report.

SASSA local offices around the Western Cape have been inundated with applicants, with long queues of people wanting to renew their grants, some even sleeping outside the offices.

Nhlangothi briefed the provincial Standing Committee on Social Development, on Tuesday. He said there were 52,323 lapsed temporary disability grants in the Western Cape in December 2020. A total of 48,027 grants were being processed, and 16,569 people had been medically assessed, leaving 31,458 outstanding.

Hotspot outlets with long queues included Bellville, which still had over 4,000 remaining assessments to complete, Eerste River with over 3,000 assessments remaining, and Khayelitsha also with over 3,000.

“We are not too concerned because with the rollout of the virtual assessments, it is estimated that each doctor will complete a minimum of 250 virtual assessments per week,” he said. There were currently 64 doctors available to do virtual assessments.

Explaining the process, Nhlangothi said the doctors would visit the medical facility where the applicant’s records were kept, draw the person’s medical file, assess and determine whether the person still needs to be on the temporary disability grant. “If the information is not clear, the doctor will then call the client to come in for a physical assessment.”

“Our job is to then go to these facilities and get the information on all these clients that have been assessed virtually, and call them to come to the office and complete their application.”

“With the number of doctors we have and the assessments that have already been done, we are confident that come 31 March, with the virtual approach, we will be done. The number of doctors contracted by SASSA is constantly growing,” said Nhlangothi.

“We understand the introduction of virtual assessments being introduced to address the backlog of the assessments, but hope that it will not affect the quality of the assessment,” said Black Sash advocacy manager Hoodah Abrahams-Fayker. “Beneficiaries must have the choice for a physical assessment if they so choose.”

She said some beneficiaries had appointments with doctors only in April and May.

“Black Sash would urge SASSA to provide these beneficiaries with interim relief with a social relief of distress grant until their re-application process is finalised. SASSA knew well in advance of the pending lapse of the grants in December 2020 and should have had measures in place to prevent the crisis. Nevertheless, we appreciate the commitment and acknowledge the efforts by SASSA Western Cape and look forward to working with SASSA to ensure the right to social assistance,” said Abrahams-Fayker.

Western Cape MEC for Social Development Sharna Fernandez said she was “deeply concerned about the total number of temporary disability grant beneficiaries’ applications that have been processed to date, when compared to the number of beneficiaries still requiring assessment”.

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