Although several issues with the application and processing of the government-initiated Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme (Ters) during the Covid-19 outbreak have been resolved, many challenges remain.
In addition, the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) has stated on its website that May applications for claims under the UIF Covid-19 Ters scheme have not opened yet.
Natalie Singer, executive consultant at Global Business Solutions, is hopeful that when the process for May starts, many of the problems experienced with the April applications will have been dealt with. She also suspects that the applications for May are being held back in order to clear the existing backlog.
Ters provides emergency relief for employers to claim benefits on behalf of their employees during the lockdown. The main frustration for employers claiming benefits under the scheme relates to the constant changes to the system.
However, it does appear as if the launch of the online application portal by the Department of Employment and Labour has brought some relief. Applications are processed more quickly, and many employers have received payments for their workers.
Joon Chong, partner at law firm Webber Wentzel, says there has been a “significant improvement”, with claims being dealt with faster and payments being calculated more accurately.
The UIF has been working extremely hard to fix its systems, to reprocess incorrect or rejected claims, and in dealing with further submissions in general, she says.
Chong adds that it would be ideal if the UIF could provide guidance on its website on how some of the issues employers and employees have been faced with can be resolved. Unfortunately, there is no streamlined process.
Singer says employers who were quick off the mark were especially frustrated. “The problems started with the incorrect calculations of claims. Some of the initial payments were short and employers had to wait for the recalculations to be done.”
Issues around the conversion of employee data to comma separated value (CSV) files seem to have been corrected, says Singer. The UIF now offers assistance for employers who are still experiencing problems uploading these files.
It also appears that the UIF had not been capturing the declarations submitted by employers – even before the rollout of the relief scheme – from the payroll reports. In other instances, employers only made declarations and payments to the South African Revenue Service (Sars).
Beatrie Gouws, head of stakeholder management and strategic development at the South African Institute of Tax Professionals (Sait) reports a similar trend. “The flow of queries from Sait members stemming from technical problems have dropped, while the queries from employers trying to correct pre-Covid-19 reporting or registration errors with the UIF before they can access the Ters [benefit] have increased sharply.”
Singer says employers uploaded their CSV files (with their employees’ data), but the UIF could not link them to the employer and they were therefore not paid the claimed benefits.
Chong advises employers to check their status on the website daily to ensure files that were uploaded reflect as “captured”.
Employers were also experiencing frustration when submitting claims for foreign nationals and employees who are newly registered with the UIF.
Singer explains that the UIF system is built around the South African identity number as the point of reference. The hospitality industry employs a large number of foreign nationals who have been registered with the UIF and have been contributing to fund. They have received no payments for April.
Chong says where employers used the passport numbers of their foreign employers, the claims were rejected automatically.
“The UIF has improved its system and resubmissions can be done on the uFiling’s Declarations Manager function,” says Chong. She says resubmissions for new employees whose average salaries are not found can also be made using the Declarations Manager function.
A further amendment, which was signed at the end of last month but has not yet been gazetted, provides for employees to apply for the Ters benefits themselves:
- If they are required to take annual leave during the continued lockdown period;
- Where there is no bargaining council agreement with the employer; and
- Where the employer has not applied for Ters benefits for the individual.
Singer says this can be done on the uFiling website and will require some additional information declaring that the individual has been laid off or that they are not able to work.
Gouws says the agility of the department and the UIF during the crisis is appreciated. “It is expected that further discrepancies between the legislative intent and the practical implementation of Ters will be addressed.”
Chong says employers can claim benefits for their domestic workers and gardeners if the employees are registered with and have contributed to the UIF.
Singer notes that these employers, as well as employers who employ fewer than 10 people, should claim on the uFiling website by following the uFiling Home Quick Links.