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Villafuerte to DSWD: Probe ‘exorbitant’ convenience fees for withdrawing SAP aid

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Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte has asked the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to check whether its financial service providers (FSPs) are overcharging beneficiaries of the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) amid complaints about exorbitant convenience fees charged by “abusive” FSPs.

During last week’s hearing by the House committee on good government and public accountability, the DSWD informed lawmakers that the agreement with remittance partners was that they should not charge more than P50 as convenience fee for every SAP cashout regardless of the amount.

Villafuerte, however, said he received reports that some providers charge as high as P120 for every over-the-counter (OTC) cash payout in the authorized partner-remittance outlets designated by the DSWD.

“May tanong lang ko, meron kasi na nagcha-charge ng P50, ng P120, puwede bang pakilinaw sa ating mga kababayan. Kunwari ang SAP nila sa Metro Manila, P8,000, alam nyo ba nagcha-charge ang provider ng service fee na P120 or more at tanong ko lang may agreed rate ba kayo, may iba P50, may iba P120, so nabibigla ang ating kababayan,” he said.

“May nag-Facebook sa akin na tanungin ko sa inyo kung alam ba ninyo yun, ano ba ang standard rate, bakit iba-iba sa bawat probinsya?” Villafuerte said during the committee’s continuing inquiry into alleged irregularities in the implementation of the SAP.

DSWD Undersecretary for Operations Aimee Torrefranca-Neri said during the hearing that the P50 fee should only be imposed when the beneficiaries decide to get their cash grants through the partner-remittance centers.

No fee is supposed to be charged by FSPs when the beneficiaries opt to receive their emergency subsidies online, she added.

Upon learning that the convenience fee should not be more than P50 per cashout, Villafuerte said the DSWD should immediately take action against “abusive” FSPs that overcharged the SAP beneficiaries.

“While your desire is to partner with or accredit reputable financial service providers, may nag-o-overcharge. Dapat either huwag nyo na silang i-accredit, dahil nangaabuso,” he said.

The DSWD had signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the Land Bank of the Philippines (LANDBANK) and six FSPs as electronic payment and OTC channels for the release of the SAP grants.

These FSPs are GCash, Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC), Robinsons Bank, PayMaya, Starpay, and Union Bank of the Philippines (UBP).

Given that SAP beneficiaries are mostly poor or low-income households, Villafuerte noted that many of them are either unbanked or do not have access to GCash or Paymaya, and would opt to get their cash aid OTC through remittance outlets.

“I-assume natin na pag nagbigay tayo ng ayuda, ica-cash out nila yan kasi yung iba hindi talaga sanay sa (online transactions), karamihan dyan bibili ng bigas at karamihan ng retailer ng bigas ay hindi naman online,” Villafuerte told the DSWD officials.

“Gusto kong i-point out na maraming nag-o-overcharge na service providers. We will provide the DSWD with these complaints of overcharging. Huwag na po kayo maghintay sa amin na provide-dan namin kayo, i-check nyo na po on the ground,” he added.