South Africa: Sassa’s New ID Verification Process Sparks Alarm

Biometric identification has been introduced to fight fraud, says agency

  • Beneficiaries of the Social Relief of Distress grant are at risk of their grants being suspended if they fail to complete an identity verification process.
  • SASSA spokesperson Paseka Letsatsi says the process has been introduced to fight fraud.
  • #PayTheGrants says hundreds of beneficiaries have complained and thousands may be affected.

Hundreds of recipients of the Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant have complained that they can’t access their grant because of a new identity verification process introduced to fight fraud.

Elizabeth Raiters, from #PayTheGrants, said the organisation has received hundreds of complaints from across the country.

Paseka Letsatsi, spokesperson for the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA), said biometric identification had been introduced to stop fraud. SASSA has previously reported high volumes of fraud with the R370-a-month SRD grant.

Since earlier this year, beneficiaries of the grant who change their mobile numbers have had to undergo a biometric ID verification. But now, beneficiaries suspected of committing identity theft or of being victims of identity theft are also expected to do so.

“These include those who have been vulnerable to identity theft at banks,” said Letsatsi. “SASSA works closely with the banks and the South African Fraud Prevention Service to identify these clients.”

“In brief, clients who need to confirm their identity are taken through an electronic Know Your Client process similar to those used at banks.”

“Similar to an application, this is a one-time activity to unlock a blocked account or to make a ‘high risk’ change to the client profile,” Letsatsi said.

Beneficiaries who want to change their mobile number or who have been identified by SASSA as needing verification are expected to contact SASSA to request identity verification. They will be sent an SMS link to an internet page. They are then expected to take a photo of their face and send it back. They will then be notified if the process was successful or not.

For beneficiaries who do not have smartphones which can take photos, or who do not have access to the internet, this can be a problem, says Raiters.

Asked what will happen to the SRD beneficiaries who do not complete the ID verification process, Letsatsi said, “Their grants will remain suspended”.

He did not say how many people might be affected. The number of SRD grant beneficiaries varies between 7.5-million and 8.5-million as recipients are subjected to monthly means tests.

Even some beneficiaries who do have the technology to complete the verification process are concerned that this additional step will delay their grant from being paid on time in June.

Lerverch Pieters has been unemployed since January 2024 and applied for the SRD grant in February. Although he was approved for March, April, May and June, he only received his April payment in May.

“When I checked my status this morning for my June payout to see the date when I’ll be paid, it showed that I need to verify my identity,” he said.

After clicking on the identity verification link, he was notified that an SMS would be sent to his cellphone within two days with a different link. He has not yet received the link.

Pieters and his wife receive the SRD grant, while his daughter receives the R530 child support grant. “We are fully dependent on the grants,” he said.

Since his grant is paid directly into his bank account, he does not understand why SASSA would need to verify his identity. “The relevant cross-checks have been done with your bank account to verify if it’s you, why do they need to verify your identity again?” he asked

Raiters said #PayTheGrants was concerned about the lack of communication from SASSA about the verification process. She said there was also a risk that beneficiaries might not receive the link on their phone from SASSA in time for June payments. “This means thousands of beneficiaries will not receive their SRD grant this month due to this.”

“It is sad that, yet again, beneficiaries have to go hungry and this is without warning from SASSA,” she said.

Raiters said #PayTheGrants had flagged the issue with SASSA but had yet to receive a response.