16 July 2008
Legislation which gradually lowers the age of eligibility for a state pension for men from the current 65 years to 60 years – similar to that required of women – has been signed into law, said Social Development Minister Zola Skweyiya.
“This is certainly welcome news as it will bring much needed relief to over 125 000 senior citizens,” he said in Pretoria last week.
“It is especially good news in the context of rising food, petrol and others basic commodities.”
As of this week, men aged 63 and 64 will be able to apply for a state pension through the amended Social Assistance Act. Men who turn 61 and 62 this year will be able to apply for the pension as from April 2009, and by 2010 the eligibility age will be equal between men and women.
Around 450 000 men will benefit from the passing of this legislation, with approximately 121 000 coming on board this year alone.
The value of the old age pension was now R940, said Skweyiya, adding that the government had set aside R800-million to extend the pensions to those who qualify as a result of the amended law.
Vital source of income
Poverty and unemployment caused many families to rely on pensions for their survival especially, where social grants were the only source of income in a household.
Pensioners were also instrumental in caring for the needs of their children, grandchildren and orphans as a result of the HIV/Aids, and the Department of Social Development said that the legislation was aimed at acknowledging the role pensioners played in society.
Constitution stipulates equality
Earlier this year, Skweyiya reported that during the many public meetings he had attended, people had asked him why men were only eligible for the old age grant from the age of 65, while women received the grant from 60 years, especially if the country’s Constitution stipulated equality between men and women.
This led to Skweyiya introducing the Social Assistance Amendment Bill in Parliament in March this year.
“In terms of the implementation, it is all systems go and I encourage those who qualify to visit their nearest South African Social Security Agency’s offices,” he said.
Independent tribunal for appeals
The second objective of the amended legislation was focused on ensuring that access to grants, which are handled by the South African Social Security Agency, occurred in a fair and equitable manner.
Where the department previously had no say in the processing of grant applications, the amended legislation allowed for the minister to appoint an independent tribunal to consider all appeals against the decisions of the agency.
An independent tribunal consisting of appeals officers, to develop policies, and enlisted panel members to adjudicate decisions is being piloted in KwaZulu-Natal.
There would be two phases of adjudication – at the pre-adjudication phase a matter would be investigated by medical practitioners and attorneys, after which civil society would provide specific contexts like poor socio-economic conditions.
The independent tribunal would serve as a mechanism allowing citizens the opportunity to appeal the rejection of their social grant applications without the need to undertake a costly legal process.
Social security has expanded from a coverage rate of 2.5-million in 1994 to over 12.7-million in 2008.