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Home » Featured » Road Accident Fund – ‘a travesty’

Road Accident Fund – ‘a travesty’

Catastrophic incompetence – Transport Minister reveals bankrupt RAF has a R49.9-bn backlog and 45 000 claims stretching unpaid for more than 10 years. 

THE Personal Injury Plaintiff Lawyers Association (PIPLA) is the latest group of attorneys to add their voice to the mounting allegations of mismanagement, incompetence and non-payment at the Road Accident Fund (RAF).

“As much as the RAF would like to deflect blame, the reality is that claims are piling up and are just not being paid. This is impacting the most vulnerable in our society – road accident victims,” says Advocate Justin Erasmus, Chairperson of PIPLA.

He says this situation has become a complete travesty and attorneys are not the only ones complaining. On Friday 1 November, the KwaZulu-Natal Private Ambulances Association (KZNPAA) issued a memorandum to the RAF threatening to withdraw its ambulances belonging to more than 25 emergency medical services if the RAF did not honour the R10 million still outstanding.

Medical experts have also been hard hit by the twin forces of RAF non-payments and COVID-19, potentially making their practices financially unsustainable. A recent survey in Legalbrief conducted among occupational therapists (89) and industrial psychologists (21) – found that 98% of respondents indicated they cannot sustain their practices financially under current measures implemented by the RAF. Occupational therapist Anne Reynolds says the situation has been compounded by the chaos which was caused by the termination of the RAF’s panel of attorneys.

“Reports and joint minutes have not been finalised as a result, new appointments have not been made and/or court dates have been delayed. All of this has had a significant impact on the victims of road accidents, as well as the experts (both defendant and plaintiff) whose valuable expertise is required to ensure fair and equitable settlements of the road accident victims’ claims,” says Reynolds.

Not a single respondent indicated that their practice was financially sustainable with the current non-payment situation by the RAF. “The real losers will unfortunately be the victims at the end of the day. With no experienced experts to assess the claims, the likelihood is that claims will be under settled with little provision for adequate funds to cover medical costs and aids to ensure an optimal quality of life,” she says.

Erasmus says the backlog at the RAF is nothing new, but this has been exacerbated by Covid-19. “When almost every private sector company was making arrangements for staff to work remotely at home during the lockdown, no one was able to interact with any RAF staff during this period which now means the fund is facing an even bigger backlog.”

He says with so many complaints of non-payment being aired it is difficult to understand who is actually being paid from the roughly R2 000 million Rand paid to the RAF monthly.  There is just no transparency. It appears much of the money flows to Provincial Health Departments who ironically have now also put in claims against the Road Accident Fund – essentially subsidising public health care in South Africa.

Claims from Minister of Transport, Fikile Mbalula, earlier this year that the appointment of ex PRASA CEO, Collins Letsoalo as RAF CEO in August, would help streamline the organisation have unfortunately just not materialised. “In fact,” says Erasmus, “if anything, things have only gotten worse.”

An employee at de Broglio Attorneys attests to this saying she had been working with the RAF for the last eight years and for the first time this year she actually felt scared for her clients.

“Emails are not answered or acknowledged, and phone calls are simply not picked up. Staff in the costs department say they don’t even have paper to print on,” she says.

Last month RAF CEO, Collins Letsoalo, asked for a 180 day reprieve on claim settlement payments. “The problem,” says Erasmus, “is that the 180 days does not start from the court settlement day, but rather the day the RAF decides to load the settlement onto their system – which is often more than 6 months after the Court case.”  This week Judge van der Schyff of the High Court in Pretoria criticized the Road Accident Fund saying they must “get their house in order” and that there was  “…a total lack of transparency in the [RAF’s] dealing with the claims since the beginning of this year…”.

Imagine how hard it must be for victims. “Remember it can take anything from 4 – 6 years for a claim to be settled. Many of these victims have had to exist in intense deprivation during this time and may even have been breadwinners for a family so the spin-off is huge. Once the settlement amount is finally settled with a Court Order, the waiting should be over but that is where the nightmare really begins, trying to get through the administrative inefficiencies of the RAF.”

Take for example, a case where the Court Order for the amount was made 24 April 2019. The RAF only requested the payment on the 4th of October 2020.  This means that since when the Court Order date was finally signed by a judge and accepted, this payment has already been outstanding for 554 Days (almost 2 years), but because the RAF only requested the payment, on their own system, the 4th of October 2020, they claim it had only been outstanding for 25 days. This means this client will have to wait a further 155 days if RAF has its way.

“Many clients come from very poor backgrounds and just do not have the means to wait or survive this long. A waiting period of at least 500 days is average and for further delays to happen in the actual registration is just not acceptable. We know that the longer the waiting period before an injured victim can receive rehabilitation and support, the less likely his chances of ever returning to the workplace are.

It appears there is no incentive or urgency to register the claim once settled and this is an area we urgently request the RAF to address,” concludes Erasmus.

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