R350 unemployment grant: After many failed attempts, we finally found a way to apply
- None of the channels set up to accept applications for the special Covid-19 unemployment grant of R350 work reliably – and some do not work at all.
- The SA Social Security Agency's website is not available, its WhatsApp system is not responsive, and its email system is unusable on most platforms.
- A promised SMS system does not appear to be in place, and there is no sign of a Facebook Messenger channel.
- But if you stay up late enough, USSD will eventually work, our testing shows.
- For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
Applications for the temporary Covid-19 grant for people with no other income or state support officially opened for applications on Monday – if only in theory.
A flood of complaints, and Business Insider South Africa testing, showed that the supposed methods of application were simply not available, or failed just a couple of steps into the process.
The R350 grants, formally know as Social Relief of Distress (SRD) payments, are due to be paid starting on 15 May – for those registered in time – and will run until October, for a total of R2,100 due to recipients.
See also | A new cellphone number may mean trouble: What we just learnt about the R350 Covid-19 grant
The SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) has warned that there will be no back pay for those who register late.
Up to six million South Africans are believed to be eligible.
No physical applications are accepted at Sassa offices, and though the agency and its minister has promised fieldworkers will go out to those without access to technology, that is not yet happening.
On Monday Sassa announced that applications will be available via a special section of its website, on srd.sassa.gov.za. Testing by Business Insider over a 24-hour period showed that site never loaded successfully.
A WhatsApp system was expected to be the primary means for many people to apply. After a successful test on the health department's Covid-19 platform (hosted on the number 060 012 3456), Sassa opted to instead use a platform provided by GovChat, on the number 082 046 8553.
As of Tuesday morning, that WhatsApp system was largely unresponsive, simply ignoring all messages to it – though on occasion it could be induced to offer information on how to get a Covid-19 test.
The number did not respond to SMS, another channel promised for applications.
GovChat on Monday said it would also be offering Facebook Messenger as an application mechanism. As of Tuesday morning there was no sign of such a system.
Another promised channel, email, was both unreliable and not available on many platforms. Since the weekend any email sent to the address SRD@sassa.gov.za would return a PDF form to be filled in. But many potential applicants said they never received a reply email. Others could not open or fill in the PDF on their phones, and none seemed able to mail it back, using a button on the form itself.
No email address is specified for returning the form, and there appeared to be no way to confirm that an application had been successfully lodged via email.
A USSD system, accessed by dialling *134*7737# from a cellphone, has been theoretically available since Monday afternoon – but apparently unable to keep up with demand. During the course of Monday it failed after a couple of steps with the error "UNKNOWN APPLICATION". Later in the day it returned only a message urging users to "try again later or visit our other application channels" because of "high call volumes".
On Tuesday morning the USSD service responded only with the message: "Service execution error: timeout".
But in between, at 22:30 on Monday night, Business Insider managed to complete the entire registration process successfully via USSD, with no special effort, and all functions appearing to work as they should.
The only flaw: the USSD process requires applicants to "agree to the declaration as set out on the website line, https://srd.sassa.gov.za" – which remained unavailable throughout.
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