Will the government compensate me for my chronic illness from when I was diagnosed?

Will the government compensate me for my chronic illness from when I was diagnosed?

The short answer

No, if your application for a disability grant is approved, you will only be paid from the day you applied.

The whole question

Dear Athalie

I was diagnosed with a chronic mental illness while I was studying. I can’t work properly but I am currently employed. If I apply for a disability grant, will I get paid from the date of my diagnosis?

The long answer

I’m afraid there is no retrospective compensation paid by government to people who were diagnosed with a mental illness when they were not working, but studying.

The only thing that you could possibly apply for is a disability grant from SASSA, but if you were successful in applying for the grant, it would only be paid from the day you applied.

You would need to complete a disability grant application form at your nearest South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) office in the presence of a SASSA officer.

These are the conditions you would need to fulfil to qualify for a SASSA disability grant, as listed by the Western Cape government website. You would need to:

  • be a South African citizen, permanent resident, or refugee living in South Africa at the time of application,

  • be between 18 and 59 years old,

  • not be cared for in a state institution,

  • have a valid South African identity document (ID),

  • undergo a medical examination where a doctor appointed by the state will assess the degree of your disability,

  • bring along any previous medical records and reports when you make the application and have the assessment, (The medical report and functional assessment report, must be by a medical practitioner recognised by SASSA, confirming your disability. Your medical assessment must not be older than 3 months at the date of application.)

  • not earn more than R86 280 if you are single or R172 560 if married,

  • not have assets worth more than R1 227 600 if you are single or R2 455 200 if you are married,

  • meet the requirements of the means test, and

  • not be a recipient of another grant.

SASSA says that in order to get a disability grant, you must be unfit to work due to disability (mentally or physically) for more than six months. If your disability stops you from working for a minimum of 6 months but a maximum of 12 months, you can meet the criteria for a temporary disability grant.

Barbara October, in a 2022 article for GroundUp, which looked at the considerable difficulties people diagnosed with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia face when applying for social grants, quotes the SASSA spokesperson, Omphemetse Molopyane, as saying a mental disability must affect an applicant’s ability to work. “For this reason, a different decision may be made for two applicants with a similar condition.”

According to the article, he said that the medical assessment was critical to the applicant’s success. He conceded that there were some 30,000 applicants awaiting assessment.

Many of the applicants that GroundUp spoke to said that applying to renew their disability grants was a very long, tiring and challenging business.

It may be helpful to contact an organisation like the South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) for advice. It is a mental health-focused human rights organisation dedicated to assisting mental health care users with information and referrals. It does not provide mental health care services directly, but has a help desk. These are their contact details:

Tel: 011 718 1852

Email: info@safmh.org

Wishing you the best,