Department has to increase patient subsidies

Published Jan 30, 2024


In a typical David versus Goliath scenario, a home for people who have physical and mental disabilities in Mpumalanga scored a victory for its 36 state-subsidised residents when the court ordered the Department of Social Development (DSD) in the province to up its subsidies to the home.

The Mpumalanga High Court, sitting in Mbombela, heard that the provincial government had not increased its subsidy to the Sunfield Home Fortuna, outside Balfour, in the past 15 years.

The home, with the help of AfriForum, turned to court. The civil rights organisation argued that the home’s subsidy should be increased in line with inflation.

The case, which began when Sunfield Home approached AfriForum for help in August 2022, focused on the unfair subsidy amount that had never been increased in the past 15 years.

if the subsidy was not increased, Sunfield could have been forced to relocate the home’s vulnerable residents.

In 2022, AfriForum successfully obtained an interdict that prevented the cancellation of the contract and ensured the continued payment of the subsidy, pending the finalisation of the main matter, which was now heard.

The court declared that the department had failed to budget sufficiently because it had not made provision for inflationary increases in state-subsidised residents’ subsidies for the past 15 years.

The judgment orders, among other things, that the 2024/2025 subsidy be paid at a monthly amount, as determined by the court, and that the annual increase must be budgeted and paid based on the consumer price index (CPI).

Sunfield argued that the department had failed to sufficiently budget in that it had not taken into account inflationary increases during the past 15 years for subsidies for the 36 state-subsidised patients.

A service level agreement (SLA) was earlier concluded between the department and Sunfield, regulating the rights and obligations of the department towards the patients.

A new SLA was due to be entered into after the SLA had expired at the end of March 2022. It has yet to be signed.

The department had said that it would remove the patients by September 2022. A month before that, two officials had visited Sunfield to determine where the patients could be placed. This prompted the earlier urgent application to place a temporary hold on the relocation of the patients.

A curator was also appointed to look after the interests of the patients.

In this latest application to have the subsidy increased, the applicants relied on the department’s annual reports for financial years 2020/2021 and 2021/2022, arguing that the DSD could provide an adequate subsidy for Sunfield and other facilities of the same or similar circumstances to that of Sunfield.

They submitted that for the 2020/2021 financial year, DSD budgeted for R625 708 000 for transfers and subsidies, with an expenditure of R580 163 000, while underspending R45 500 000.

Regarding the financial year 2021/2022, it was averred that the DSD annual report reflected a surplus of R58 500 000.

In its report, the DSD said it had been unable to meet Sunfield’s demands to increase the funding since the programme for persons with disabilities has not increased the subsidy for the past 15 years.

The department said the decision not to increase the subsidy was based on the Budget allocated by the Treasury, notwithstanding that the DSD continued to present the Treasury with shortfalls and budget pressures in order to secure additional funding.

Acting Judge N Mazibuko found that the DSD had resources available to provide adequate subsidies to organisations that took care of persons with physical and intellectual disabilities, enabling them to have sufficient facilities and care.

The curator recommended that it would be in the best interest of the patients that they remain at Sunfield until a proper classification of the patients has been concluded, and the funding issue had been adequately addressed.

The curator said that not all patients were assisted by caregivers. They were encouraged to be visited by family. Of the 36 patients, only 15 had family who could visit and contact them. The other 15 had family members who seldom made contact and six do not have any family.

Sunfield said in a report that it had hosted various fund-raisers and receives support from the community, which donated food and other goods.

They confirmed that on one occasion, they had taken the patients to DSD’s office (after explaining to them that they were going on a “joyride” since Eskom bills had to be paid and the DSD had not paid and they wanted to put pressure on the department to pay.

The report revealed that taking the patients to the office had been a desperate attempt to have the DSD consider an increased subsidy and not transfer the patients to another facility.

In voicing the court’’sdisapproval with this, Judge Mazibuko said that “of paramount importance and centre of this application is the dignity of the most vulnerable people, the patients”.

The judge said it was a pity that the patients had been used as a negotiation tool to put pressure on the DSD to increase the subsidy.

Pretoria News

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