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Billions of rands remain unclaimed in Metropolitan coffers and they are dying to pay them out to the beneficiaries, Consumer Line has discovered.
If you have ever taken out a retirement policy and cancelled it without claiming, that money is still yours and you are entitled to claim it.
More than 4.5 million South Africans have R42bn in unclaimed retirement savings and insurance policy benefits, as reported by unclaimedbenefit.co.za.
Consumer line only spoke to Metropolitan so far.
To help solve this problem, Metropolitan will be embarking on a national roadshow to reach out to communities to reunite unclaimed benefits with the rightful beneficiaries.
Metropolitan's head of Life Event Solutions, Deidre Wolmarans, said over the last four years Metropolitan has traced beneficiaries and paid out more than R1.5bn in unclaimed benefits.
The remaining R40.5bn is owed to clients of other insurance companies, Wolmarans said.
She said over the last three years, more than 26,000 claimants were paid out.
Metropolitan is now calling on all South Africans who are unsure whether they may have benefits due to them or to their family members to get in touch, she said.
"The legislated definition of unclaimed benefits is a benefit that has not been paid to or claimed by a member within 24 months from the date it became due for payment or claiming," she said.
Explaining how the R40bn had accumulated, Wolmarans said unclaimed benefits can occur for several reasons, for example, the contact details on record may be incorrect or beneficiaries may not be aware of the benefits due to them.
"Other reasons could include poor record keeping by funds or administrators, or simply because members of retirement funds are uninformed about their withdrawal benefits if they resign, are dismissed or retrenched and are unsure how to claim their benefits," she said.
Insurers and their clients do not always stay in regular contact with each other as circumstances or addresses change. Metropolitan has been working extremely hard to update its client information to ensure it can reach and engage with clients, said Wolmarans.
"While most insurers are trying to trace beneficiaries, the process is slow and more needs to be done."
She said Metropolitan has fixed some of the root causes that lead to unclaimed benefits.
Wolmarans said the insurer's claims process takes a more proactive approach to the settling of claims, which means the insurer contributes less to the unclaimed benefits landscape.
"To make the process even easier for clients, Metropolitan will launch a national Know Your Insurance Matters Roadshow early in 2020," she said.
Wolmarans said the campaign will focus on helping clients to be better educated and empowered on unclaimed benefits and valid claims.
"A team of benefits experts will visit communities across South Africa where they will check if members have any unclaimed benefits owed to them."
Wolmarans said Metropolitan's mission to pay unclaimed benefits is one of several initiatives to help the financial services company get closer to its customers.
She said Metropolitan's dedication to reuniting unclaimed benefits with the rightful beneficiaries is further proof of the insurer's customer-centric focus and yet another reason why Metropolitan has been named a leading supplier of life insurance for four consecutive years by the South African Customer Satisfaction Index (SA-csi).
It was also voted top company in the long-term insurance industry for service excellence in the Ask Afrika Orange Index for two consecutive years.
Until the Metropolitan Know Your Insurance Matters roadshow visits a town near you, it is still possible to find out if you have unclaimed benefits.
Here's how to do it:
Ask your financial adviser to check your ID number or the ID number of your family member with any financial services provider you have had a policy with in the past.
If a family member has died, you can check if they may have unclaimed benefits accrued to them from any financial services provider.
Make an effort to update your contact details on a regular basis, especially when those details change.
To check whether you are due any unclaimed benefits at Metropolitan, please call 0860-724-724, email email@example.com or fill in your details on the company website https://www.metropolitan.co.za/unclaimed-benefits/
If you discover that you do have unclaimed benefits, it is important to get solid financial advice on what to do with the money. Most insurers can direct you to financial advisers who are equipped to assist clients with advice on where best to invest their unclaimed benefits.
Unclaimed benefits for all South African financial services companies can also be sourced via the FSCA websitehttps://www.fsca.co.za/Customers/ Pages/Unclaimed-Benefits.aspx.
“This may seem small compared to the billions of unclaimed assets, but it is always nice to see a direct impact”
It’s nice to share good news every now and again. Late last year we published two stories (here and here) on R42 billion in unclaimed pensions owed to more than four million workers going back decades – and the sluggish response of the fund administrators in tracking down the beneficiaries of these funds. We included a link to the free search engine operated by Benefits Exchange which allowed more than 70 readers to track down over R650,000 in unclaimed benefits.
“This may seem small compared to the billions of unclaimed assets, but it is always nice to see a direct impact,” says Benefits Exchange founder Sean Rossouw.
Interestingly, 38% of the unclaimed benefits identified by Benefits Exchange are administered by the Metal Industry Benefit Fund Administrators (MIBFA), 29% by Alexander Forbes and 12% by Liberty.
A 2019 report by non-profit organisation Open Secrets titled The Bottom Line says the total amount of unclaimed benefits rises to R51 billion if funds falling outside the Pension Funds Act are added.
As we previously reported, there seems to be little serious effort among most administrators to track down beneficiaries of unclaimed pensions. As long as the funds remain unclaimed, the administrators continue to earn hefty fees, year after year.
Most of the unclaimed funds sit with just two trade union-affiliated fund administrators: MIBFA and the Mineworkers Provident Fund Administrators, with R19 billion and R4.3 billion owed respectively.
Part of the problem is poor record-keeping by administrators, such as wrong or missing ID numbers, wrong dates of birth, unknown addresses and the use of initials rather than full names of former workers. But another big problem is the insistence by certain administrators to do beneficiary tracing in-house, rather than using external specialised tracing agents, who have the incentive to maximise trace success rates.
Rossouw says claimants are routinely given the run-around by administrators, especially MIBFA, which has a call centre and invites those who believe they are owed unclaimed pension money to contact it.
“We have an individual who we have been trying to assist with his MIBFA claim for his deceased father’s unclaimed benefit. On two occasions he was advised no benefit was payable and MIBFA does not perform date-of-birth searches, which is a necessity as MIBFA does not have ID numbers for all unclaimed benefits. On the third occasion, after we advised him to try again, a friendlier agent confirmed that there was in fact a benefit payable and that a lot of the agents are either not helpful or do not know the administration system properly. One can only imagine the number of frustrated individuals where this type of incorrect response has resulted in valid unclaimed benefits being denied,” says Rossouw.
Another claimant, Jannie Butler, contacted the MIBFA call centre and was advised that there was no claim matching the details he provided, despite an unclaimed benefit being listed on a database operated by the Financial Sector Conduct Authority. He tried the MIBFA call centre again and this time got a more cooperative agent who advised him that there was indeed an unclaimed benefit listed against his name. A search using the Benefits Exchange search engine showed he had two matches from former employers who contributed to the MIFBA fund: Propower and Dunswart Iron and Steel.
Butler completed the claim form but was advised that he needed to submit missing claim documents. After submitting the requested claim documents, he has been told yet again there is no record of an unclaimed benefit due to him.
Butler has suffered a stroke while in the process of trying to claim his benefits and feels the stress related to the process was partly to blame.
Groundup asked MIFBA for comment but has received no response.
Hundreds of former mineworkers, who have had successful claims in the landmark R5bn silicosis class action, have been duped of some of their monies.
On Wednesday, the Hawks swooped on business premises in Klerksdorp, North West, to conduct a search and seizure operation after hundreds of ex-miners and beneficiaries alleged that they had been swindled of their compensation claims.
According to the ex-miners and beneficiaries, they were approached by individuals from a company which promised to help them fast track their claims following the historic silicosis settlement.
The complainants told investigators that up to 40% of their claims were taken by the company whose name has been withheld until formal charges have been pressed.
North West Hawks spokesperson Capt Tlangelani Rikhotso confirmed that Wednesday's operation was part of an ongoing investigation into claims made by the former miners and their beneficiaries on the discrepancies on their claims.
Rikhotso said no arrests have been made at this stage.
Sources close to the investigation said the company touted and acted as an intermediary for claimants and beneficiaries involved in the silicosis class action.
At least 36 victims have reported to police how they were duped into paying money to companies that promised to fast track their claims.
The intermediaries allegedly colluded with some employees of the Competition Commission of Occupational Diseases by providing them with details of claimants so the company could approach them.
"They would go to claimants and tell them that they could speed up their claims for them without telling them how much they will take from them," said a source.
He said that the number of cases could run into hundreds.
The alleged syndicate companies operated in the North West, Eastern Cape, Western Cape and in Mozambique, targeting former mineworkers and their dependants.
One of the victims of the alleged scam run by the Klerksdorp company, Kelebogile Brown, said an agent of the company took R10,000 from her father's R43,000 payout.
Her father Solly Msimango was a mineworker at the Vaal Reefs Gold Mine in the North West from 1984 until 2006.
"He was retrenched after he was diagnosed with silicosis and he died three years later. We were left poor because he was the breadwinner. Our claim came out and they took more than I thought they would and it was for nothing," Brown said.
Another victim Maki Mabunda, 73, whose son, Ben Mabunda died as a result of silicosis said she was left heartbroken after the company took R60,000 of the R100,000 that was due to her.
"I was approached by one of them [agents] and they said they would help me with getting my son's money. That money was meant to take care of Ben's two children," Mabunda said.
The department of health's spokesperson Forster Mohale said a number of claimants and ex-mineworkers associations have complained about touts harassing beneficiaries.
"The NDOH requested that they lay charges at the SA Police Service or law enforcement agencies. Thus the search and seizure operation by the Hawks is welcomed and shows that perpetrators of fraud against claimants of compensation for occupational lung diseases will not be tolerated," he said.
Tshiamiso Trust, which is responsible for facilitating payments to the beneficiaries, said they were made aware of the fraudulent efforts by individuals and companies. The trust's spokesperson Alan Fine said the fraudulent activities included charging beneficiaries for a number of services.
"These activities include charging for assisting them to register an interest in lodging a claim and charging them a fee to transport them to Johannesburg to do so. We became aware of this through patterns of registrations that we noticed from monitoring the site (https://silicosissettlement.co.za/register)," Fine said.
The leaders of an ex-mineworkers association in Khayelitsha have spent the past decade trying to track down the unpaid pension benefits deducted from their wages without their knowledge or consent. While the mining companies sit pretty , ex-mineworkers continue to live hand to mouth with painful memories of a life made invisible. Now, they demand to be seen by a government they feel has betrayed them.
Every Friday for the past decade, Sphiwo William Casiwe has made his way from his home in Khayelitsha to the local activist hub, the Isivivana Centre, for a meeting with fellow ex-mineworkers. He clutches his satchel as he hails taxis and navigates pavements. He rests his hands on the bag’s flap as he waits for the meeting to start.
The bag contains his passbook, issued when he was 17 and headed for the gold mines of Johannesburg. He can never be sure when an opportunity might arise for him to use the passbook’s meticulous employment records to claim his pension benefits.
Casiwe met Bennet Vavi when he joined the ex-mineworkers association in 2008. Since then, the two have become the vice-chairperson and chairperson of the association respectively. Each day, they navigate the web of red tape on behalf of other ex-mineworkers and their dependants to try to claim the money owed to them. Vavi and Casiwe feel their pension might mean they could finally go back to the home they were torn from as teenagers, and rest.
Casiwe recalls regularly arriving home after his 10km from school to find empty plates for supper. Their family home was outside Alice in the Eastern Cape. This worried him deeply, so much so that in 1978 at the age of 15 he left school to become a migrant worker like his father. He felt he needed to help feed his 13 siblings. He waited a year for his passbook to be issued. By the age of 17 he was mining gold in Johannesburg.
“It’s not easy to work underground. You walk on your hands and knees. The mines are like a jail because the things they do is what people do in jails. We were young, and everyone was taking advantage of you,” he says with downcast eyes.
“It’s heavy, but you can’t go back home because you know you are still going to struggle because there is no food. They are struggling, you see.”
He has many of these painful experiences in common with Vavi and other ex-mineworkers.
By the time Vavi was in Grade 4 he knew he wanted to be a farmer. By the time he was 18 he had left school near Queenstown and moved to the Western Cape where he worked odd jobs, from operating machines in Grabouw to making bricks in Strand. Friends told him he would make money for his farm a lot faster if he worked on the mines.
He says he thanks God that he knew how to fight before he arrived at the mine on the border between South Africa and Eswatini. He adds that he had to defend himself from abuse, including sexual abuse. Like Casiwe, he considered leaving, but felt it was not a viable option.
“I knew that if I ran away and I came home then people would start undermining me and saying I am weak because I ran away and that if I am a man then I must be strong,” he explains. “We used to manage those conditions, no matter how hard. You must understand, if I ran away people would laugh and say I am weak.”
Casiwe moved to the Western Cape after his accident and worked at a springs factory until he was dismissed in 2014 for protesting against wage differences between black and white workers. He cannot work because a life of hard labour has resulted in several chronic medical conditions. He relies on his wife’s salary.
Vavi too went to the Western Cape after his time on the mines. He was elected a shop steward at the factory he was working at in Epping. During this time he became well versed in pension law and has repeatedly challenged pension funds to claim his benefits – sometimes with small victories.
Both men say they never received compensation for injuries from mining accidents. Vavi’s leg was injured while he was working underground. Casiwe was instructed to work in an area he wasn’t authorised to be in, and that is when the rocky ceiling came down on his back. He was not taken to hospital or compensated; he says the mine turned a blind eye because it was more convenient. The incident made him decide to leave the mines for good.
He was 21 years old at the time.
Both men said that they hardly ever got payslips. They recalled holding bowls into which their wages would be dropped. Often, deductions were made without explanation or their permission. It is that money they now seek.
Currently, the onus is officially on the fund administrators to trace those who are owed benefits. The administrator is a private financial services company which is paid to manage the assets of pension funds and make sure members are kept in the loop and paid their benefits.
Pensioners can try to trace the fund administrator using the Financial Sector Conduct Authority’s (FSCA) unclaimed benefits search engine. Once they find the administrator, they then have to contact them and prove their claim is valid.
If only it were so simple.
Casiwe and Vavi’s benefits form part of the R42-billion owed in unpaid benefits to some 44 million South Africans. This figure is given by the The Bottom Line investigative research report into the South African pension fund industry written by Open Secrets.
They argue that not all the money has been looted, but it will take a concerted effort on the part of the government and private companies to connect with fund members and release it.
Mamello Mosiana and Michael Marchant, two researchers who worked on the report, argue that this process is complicated by the fact that so many people don’t know who to turn to. “It’s not simply through fault of their own, but the fact that the industry is very opaque,” says Marchant.
During the course of their research, they repeatedly encountered people who had visited their administrator but were told that the records do not exist, that the benefits have been paid out (but no proof of payment can be found) or they need to pay to access their own records.
The members know they contributed but haven’t received the benefits, and don’t know who to turn to next.
The apathy of administrators and the FSCA to find fund members is evident in them calling it unclaimed, and not unpaid, benefits despite providing what is essentially a social security service, says Mosiana.
“The reason they call it ‘unclaimed’ is so ridiculous, because the people who are putting in the most effort to find their pensions are actually the pensioners or their beneficiaries and it shouldn’t be on them,” says Mosiana.
“They come with their IDs, their ‘blue cards’ from the mines or their passbooks – they have all the documents and they make the effort, but the regulator is not putting in as much effort as they should be.
“In a country that is so unequal with so many people who can’t really read or access the internet it is ridiculous how much is being put on people who are already poor to do all of this. Even just running around –how many taxis must they take to get from one place to the other?”
Their research has shown them that ex-mineworkers face a particular set of challenges when trying to claim their benefits. On the one hand, their cause seems to be the one given the most attention by government – yet nothing materialises from it.
Many are poor and injured today. Mineworkers described their work as slavery enabled by chiefs and the apartheid government.
The migratory nature of minework means they now live far from the mines they worked at and their former colleagues, making it difficult to communicate using their limited resources. The mines kept precise records in workers’ passbooks, but somehow failed to document pension deductions with the same vigour. They navigate a murky bureaucratic maze where the money, influence and information is not in their hands.
This is the context in which Vavi and Casiwe work. Their association is part of a loose network of ex-mineworkers groups around South Africa and they also have ties to the national Unpaid Benefits Campaign. They are hosted by Workers’ World Media Productions at the Isivivana Centre.
The association mainly engages with government, as they have found the government to be more open than private companies. In the association’s experience, government officials tend to acknowledge that the money is there waiting for them.
However, Vavi says that every time officials change after an election their story vanishes and they have to begin correspondence from the very beginning. They are sent from one official to the next in a maze of documents and permissions.
They are often met with patronising dismissals from officials who are meant to help them. Casiwe says: “Everywhere we go to claim they ask: ‘Yhu tata, what are you going to do with so lot of money?’ All they are offering you is R5,000, which is too little. They think you are blind because you have no school.”
They have both found that this apathy extends to the top tiers of government. They have repeatedly engaged with parliamentary committees, the department of labour, the department of mineral resources and the department of health. They are sent from one to the other, constantly, with very few answers to show for it.
They fear that the money will soon be looted before they can access it.
“They are busy eating that money. You can see all those people in government are on the list of corrupt people… their sons and daughters are driving with big cars,” says Casiwe. “How can you hear that Zuma’s son is a billionaire? How old is that laaitie? When did he work? Where did he work? They are using the money.”
Vavi adds: “Our biggest problem in South Africa is that the political people are blind people. They took us as black and turned us to look at the whites and told us the whites oppress us. But if you can check the South Africa now, the ANC is oppressing the people better than white people.
“We don’t say white people don’t oppress, but ANC is more than them because they say they rule this land up until Jesus come back. Why do they say that, if they hold the people’s money and don’t care about governing this country? They hold the money. The ANC are spread now in pieces and they don’t care as long as they know all the money is in their hands.”
They say they feel abandoned by the trade unions they paid membership fees to all their lives and the lawyers who have tried to dupe them into giving them a slice of their benefits once they receive them.
“We are like a small baby. We have got nothing and no one. No one even thinks that they can and should give us food… This morning I couldn’t even afford a cup of coffee, but I must sit here until 12pm with diabetes. Things like that effect your body and you still have to fight and stress. We are always stressing for our money and it’s not right,” says Casiwe.
They both feel that if they got their pension they could use it to finally return to the Eastern Cape where they would live in peace.
“It’s not nice to sit in a location like us here in Khayelitsha because day and night people are dying in front of you. They shoot each other. When you are old, you need peace. I can go home [to the Eastern Cape] and buy goats and sheep and look after my things if I can get my money. Then I know I can leave this house here for my children. When we were young it was still nice in Cape Town, but not any more,” says Casiwe.