Processing EPF/ETF Simplified
By Noor Samsoodeen
Now that we are in the 21st century where everything from banking to shopping has been simplified and done online, the EPF Department seems to be quite content to carry on with their archaic system, which in no way is helpful to the members when it is time for them to collect their benefits at time of retirement or other circumstance.
In the present situation with travel restrictions and lockdowns, many retired employees are unable to lay their hands on their EPF/ETF monies, and will rightfully be frustrated. This is because to claim what is one’s due, a person will first have to visit the EPF Department to collect application forms, fill it and then go to the HR Department of the employer to get the ‘B’ Card released. Armed with this, it is once again a visit to the EPF Department to submit the claim.
It is only when a person visits the EPF with the filled-up form that the person is informed (depending on where you live), that the form has to be handed over to the Branch Office. I am sure many are unaware of this.
First is to locate the Branch Office. The Divisional Secretariat is close to my house and I went there to get this information. However, most of the employees there were clueless and I was lucky one person remembered where it was and gave me the location. To process one form at the Branch Office takes a minimum of half an hour.
If everything is in order well and good, but there is another small hitch. The question is asked: “Did you bring a photograph?” Here again thanks to modern technology a photo can be obtained within minutes, and it is back to the Branch Office. The photo is then pasted on the form given by the Branch Office, and then comes the messy part – the person has to place his/her thumb prints using the ink pad.
If everything not in order – and here it is not due to the fault of the employee but rather due to the fault of the EPF Department which issues annual statements. If there is a mistake in this statement (for example my NIC number ends with a 4 and inadvertently had been typed as 5), then a letter is given to go to Lloyds Building in Fort to get the mistake corrected. Here the officer (I am referring to what happened to me) took one look at the documents and said go to your HR Department and get a letter certifying your NIC number. So, then it is back again to the HR Department to get the letter and then Lloyds Building. In my case it was one day going to the Branch Office, the next day going to Lloyds Building, the next day to the HR Department and once again to Lloyds Building.
I thought the buck stops here, but after the documents are perused and found to be in order the person is directed to the Central Bank (first floor). When I reached the first floor, I realized everybody from Lloyds Building had ended up there. It then becomes a waiting game until you are called.
I can’t speak on behalf of others, but being elderly, I have to ease myself fairly frequently, and it is a question of hanging on until your work is done.
It is back again to the Branch Office with all the documents now in order, and now that I was aware of the procedure, within half an hour my job was done.
AT CENTRAL BANK
One guy I spoke to said he had come all the way from Ratnapura. He had left home at 5.00 and the time I spoke to him it was around 2.00 p.m.
Another young girl was told (at 2.00 p.m.) that one of the documents submitted had not been signed by an official at Narahenpita, and to go to Narahenpita, get it signed and re-submit.
EPF REGISTRATION NUMBER
All letterheads should carry the EPF registration number of the organization. Why I say this is because when I was at the Branch Office there was an old guy at the other counter (who I assume had worked at several organizations and who had documents with him) trying to convince the officer, whereas the officer was helpless as the computer most probably did not indicate the names of those organizations. The guy was the first in line and even at the time I left (maybe after one hour) his problem had not been solved.
RE-DESIGN AND SIMPLIFY FORM BY GETTING RID OF IRRELEVANT QUESTIONS AND MAKE IT AVAILABLE ONLINE
I suggest a simple form be designed and make it available online which the employer can download and fill in the employee’s details instead of the present archaic EPF/ETF form. Imagine how much of money and paper the Government will save. I got this idea when I had to apply for an Australian visa, and the form was available online (53 pages).
I assume only Sri Lankans contribute to the EPF/ETF, and if this is so, then so many questions in the current form can be dispensed with.
Do we need a column for Nationality?
Sex: Instead of blank, print Male/Female
Age and Date of birth: Do we need both? Shouldn’t DOB alone be sufficient?
Place of birth: Does is really matter where in Sri Lanka you are born?
Name and Place of Birth of Father, Name of Mother, Name and Place of Birth of Paternal Grandfather and Name of Maternal Grandfather: In my opinion all this information is irrelevant. In fact, when I was filling the form, the clerk said if you don’t know this information leave it blank. So, why not get rid of it altogether and utilize the space for something more relevant.
I don’t think even Nature of Employment is relevant because the member’s contribution is based on his/her salary and not on the type of job s/he is performing. Also, subsequently the employee may be promoted or go into a different field. Name and address of present employer is more relevant here.
Period employed: Again irrelevant. Instead suggest Date commenced job. An employee can change jobs and work in several places, so provision should be made to give the Employer EPF Registration Number in the same form (even up to five).
Identity: Isn’t there a better way instead of thumb mark, which is messy? Shouldn’t the HR Manager’s certificate be sufficient to prove the identity of a person? Also, currently there is a machine which records the thumb print, so couldn’t this be used instead?
NIC or Passport No. should be sufficient
Any distinguishing marks? Is this necessary? We are assuming the worst and the body can be identified only by the distinguishing marks.
Another important question would be the address. Provision should be made to have permanent address and temporary address. An employee can be living on rent (boarded) at the time the form was filled, and subsequently either purchased or shifted to another house in a different location. In that case the present form will indicate the wrong address which could create problems at the time of applying for benefits. Even a person’s permanent address can change if that person sells the property. This is why it is important to review the EPF form annually to incorporate such changes.
NOMINEE (TO BE REVIEWED EVERY YEAR)
I know when an unmarried person fills the form under nominee generally the mother/father’s name is entered. When the person gets married then naturally the husband/wife becomes the nominee. I am unaware whether the employee fills in a new form when s/he gets married, otherwise the nominee will continue to remain mother/father. If the EPF/ETF form can be downloaded then if and when any changes take place a fresh document can be filled and the old form replaced but not destroyed.
Similarly other changes can take place (death of nominee, divorce, child reaching maturity, remarrying, widow, widower) where the employee would wish to change the name/s of the nominee. Here again a fresh form can be downloaded and filled, which will supersede the earlier form.
Provision should be made to give the bank account and photo of the nominee. Also, if there are any additions to the nominee list, like children reaching the age of 18 and a share to be set aside for the child, that child’s bank account and photo should be included.
Recently a colleague died at the age of 74. Definitely his wife would be the nominee and she should also be 70 years at least. If there was a simple process in place her late husband’s EPF could easily be transferred to her account instead of her having to go through the hassle of going from pillar to post to get her late husband’s EPF released. In this case a letter from the HR Division should be sufficient to release the funds.
HAVE COLUMN FOR OTHER UNDER NOMINEE
Question will arise why have OTHER under NOMINEE? My reasoning is based on the following incident. Around six months back an unmarried person died while still being employed. The original nominees (parents) had already died before this. Since there is no nominee, the money will lie if the EPF Department without a claimant.
Under OTHER NOMINEE a person could bequeath the money to that person’s siblings, or to a charitable organization or whoever that person wants to give the money to.
I cannot vouch for this, but I have heard of a person who migrated and who came on holiday and wanted to claim the EPF and was told it had already been claimed!
There may also be cases where an employee’s benefits remain unclaimed. Does the EPF Department have a system where they put out a list of names and NIC numbers of people who have not claimed their EPF? This can easily be done on the web which anybody can access and check. Since the NIC number of an individual does not change (i.e. no two people have been given the same number), that document alone should be sufficient for a person to make a claim.
Sometimes the employee and the nominee may both have passed away and the children would have been very small at the time. But by perusing the web they can check whether their late parent has left anything in his/her EPF and then submit a claim when they reach adulthood.
HR DIVISION OF ORGANIZATION
The HR Division should educate employees that any changes in their personal life should be notified to the HR Division, and in general, to update the EPF/ETF form annually with any new information.
The employer should copy all the employees’ details into a hard disk in the office specially dedicated for this purpose, and one copy should be submitted to the EPF Department. Annually the hard disk will be updated and a copy of the updated hard disk will be given to the EPF Department in exchange for the old one. In between, any changes to employees’ details will be notified via email to the EPF Department.
Three or six months before an employee is due to retire, the HR Division will inform the EPF Department, and on the actual day the employee retires, once again the HR Division will inform the EPF Department who will then release the money to the employee’s account.
This will avoid employees having to go from pillar to post to get their EPF/ETF released.
EMPLOYEE’S CURRENT BALANCE
Instead of issuing statements annually, provision should be made to include at the bottom of the newly designed form the employee’s current balance as at 31 December. This will once again save a great deal of paper and also mistakes, which ultimately the employee has to suffer for.
At present with the COVID pandemic, there may be many who are unable to access their EPF/ETF benefits and have to suffer in silence, as they are unable to move around.
Another important factor which has to be taken into account is the age of the person who is entitled to his/her EPF. Invariably, the person is over 55 or even older, and may not be in the best of health.
These are the thoughts of a layman, and I hope experts will contribute to fine tune and come up with a document that will stand the test of time.