UIF office in Johannesburg.
  • The UIF has a backlog of 444 000 emails, while its 40 call centre staff are overwhelmed by 77 000 calls per day.
  • Scopa visited the UIF this week and expressed concern about its lack of capacity.
  • It said it was disturbing the company responsible for the UIF's ICT system could not respond to questions about weaknesses in the system.
  • For more articles, go to www.businessinsider.co.za.

As South Africans struggle to cope with lay-offs amid the coronavirus pandemic, the agency that is supposed to provide them with unemployment benefits seems completely overwhelmed.

This week, the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) admitted as much in a tweet:

It is also dealing with a backlog of 444 000 e-mails from the public with only eight call centre agents attending to them, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) found after it and the Portfolio Committee on Employment and Labour conducted an oversight visit this week. 

In a strongly worded statement, Scopa expressed concern about the lack of human capacity at the UIF, particularly at the call centre, saying its ICT department - where e-mails, online applications and calls from the public are processed - needed urgent attention.

"It is also disturbing to note that the consulting company responsible for the development of the same system could not respond to questions about weaknesses in the system.

"The committee wants the Department of Employment and Labour to investigate obtaining an integrated database system with other departments to avoid the kind of corruption that has happened as a result of these weaknesses," it said. 

In a report released in September, the Auditor-General (AG) outlined various problems it found with the UIF's system to pay special lockdown-related payouts - called the Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme.

This included that the UIF did not sufficiently corroborate information it received from applicants and this resulted in fraudulent payments, which included almost R696 million paid to foreigners who have not made UIF contributions in the past 12 months. Money was also paid into the accounts of dead people, children and prisoners.

The AG report resulted in the suspension of top UIF executives, including commissioner Teboho Maruping, chief financial officer Fezeka Puzi and chief operations officer Judith Kumbi.

"Scopa remains concerned with the challenges plaguing the UIF, as it is clear that the issues run deep and date to a period before Covid-19. The pandemic has simply exposed pre-existing weaknesses," it said in a statement.

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