EPFO: Major Initiatives Taken in 2020
Ministry of Labour and Employment has initiated major reforms in labour laws to ensure safety, security and health for every worker with transparency and accountability. During the tough time of Covid-19, many e-governance measures were introduced to simplify the entire EPFO claim process and by the same time, Pradhan Mantri Rojgar Protsahan Yojana (PMRPY) launched with the objective to incentivize employers for creation of new employment opportunities in the country.
The details of major initiatives taken by labour ministry in 2020 for EPFO are as under-
Employee centric initiatives
- New facilities on Unified Portal for better service delivery:- In unified portal, members can now view and download the pdf of their claim form and also record their date of exit themselves, thereby reducing dependence on employers. Facility for Aadhaar delinking of verified Aadhaar has been provided at FO interface to resolve the grievances of members whose Aadhaar was wrongly linked to incorrect UAN.
- Special Covid-19 Advance– As part of PMGKY scheme, under Para 68L, provision was made for a non-refundable advance from EPF account to EPF members, employed in any factory or establishment located in an area, which is declared to be affected by outbreak of epidemic or pandemic by the Appropriate Govt. EPFO offices across the country have settled 47.58 lakh COVID-19 advance claims till 31.10.2020, disbursing an amount of Rs. 12,220.26 crores to claimants. Since 01.04.2020, 149.31 lakh final settlement and advance claims have been settled by EPFO offices till 31.10.2020 disbursing an amount of Rs. 55,900.88 crores to PF members. Exempted establishments have also played an important role and have settled 3,89,178 COVID-19 advance claims disbursing an amount of Rs. 3782.83 crores to their members till 31.10.2020. Innovative measures like auto-settlement mode and multi-location claim settlement were deployed overnight to ensure that COVID-19 claims are settled within 72 hours despite deployment of less than 50 percent staff. This period evidenced 87 percent increase in claim settlement productivity despite serious challenges posed by pandemic and consequent lockdown.
- Auto Claim Settlement for advance applications from EPF members: EPFO has developed and deployed a mechanism for automatic settlement of claims for advance through system-based processing with minimal human intervention. This facility was developed and deployed within 24 hours of introduction of claim for advance to fight Covid pandemic. This ensured speedy and seamless service delivery to members on one hand and protected health and safety of EPFO’s employees on the other.
- Multi location claim settlement to expedite member claims -Taking a big leap towards ensuring uniform standards of service delivery across the country and optimum utilization of its workforce during COVID-19 Pandemic, EPFO has launched multi-location claim settlement facility ushering a paradigm shift by allowing EPFO to settle online claims from any of its Regional Offices, across the country. All types of online claims can be processed under this novel initiative. Further, the launch of multi-location claim settlement facility is a momentous step towards the larger objectives of ushering faceless claims processing thereby bringing greater levels of transparency, efficiency, reduction of member grievances and expeditious settlement of online claims in line with Prime Minister’s vision of Digital India. This modality has also made our operations disaster proof as workload of disaster hit area can now be moved to un-affected areas, ensuring seamless service to subscribers.
- EPFO ensures hassle free service delivery through UMANG during COVID-19 pandemic- The Unified Mobile Application for New-age Governance (UMANG) has been a big hit among subscribers enabling them to utilize services during COVID-19 pandemic from the comfort of their homes in hassle free manner. During the period from April to September 2020, a total of 19.20 lakh claims were filed online through UMANG App. This was a whopping 274% increase compared to pre-Covid-19 period from October 2019 to March 2020, where only 5.14 lakhs claims were submitted through the App. Instead of developing its own App, EPFO joined UMANG curtailing costs and enhancing facility of centralised services. EPFO services are most accessed service on UMANG app. Of the total hits the app had clocked since April, 2020 to September 2020, 88% were for EPFO services. It may not be an exaggeration to claim that EPFO powered the success of UMANG app.
- KYC Updation of subscribers– Know your Customer (KYC) updation is mandatory for availing online services of EPFO. KYC has played pivotal role in identification of members curtailing mediation of employers. To extend the availability and reach of online services, which have become crucial in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, EPFO is paying special attention to KYC updation of its subscribers. It has helped EPFO in improving its service delivery, both quantitatively and qualitatively, by cutting down time for claim settlement, EPF advances, PF transfer and pension processing. Since 01.04.2020, EPFO offices have ensured Aadhaar seeding for 101.98 lakh subscribers, mobile seeding (UAN activation) for 59.09 lakh subscribers and bank account seeding for 53.07 lakh subscribers till 31.10.2020.
- Change in procedure to rectify DoB– In a move to extend the availability and reach of online services in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, EPFO issued revised instructions to its field offices to facilitate PF members to rectify their date of birth in EPFO records, thus ensuring that their UAN is KYC compliant. The date of birth recorded in Aadhaar will now be accepted as valid proof of date of birth for the purpose of rectification, provided that the difference in the two dates is less than 3 years. The PF subscribers can submit the correction requests online. This will enable EPFO to validate the date of birth of members online with UIDAI instantaneously, thus reducing the processing time of requests for change.
- Pension Payment Orders (PPOs) and UAN cards on Digilocker: PPOs issued from the year 2017 onwards and UAN cards have been made available on Digilocker which is Government of India’s cloud based platform for storage, sharing and verification of documents and certificates. This initiative will enable a large number of pensioners and PF members to download their documents and avail timely benefits.
- Pension disbursement during COVID-19 pandemic– EPFO ensured that more than 67 lakh pensioners under the Employees’ Pension Scheme (EPS) 1995, which include mostly senior citizens, women, children and orphans, receive regular monthly on first of every month despite ongoing pandemic. Under the recently launched Prayas initiative, many field offices of EPFO are handing over PPOs to the members of EPS 1995 on the day of superannuation.
- Restoration of commuted Pension– On the recommendation of CBT, the Government of India accepted to allow restoration of commuted value of pension after 15 years. Till September 2020, EPFO has released Rs 157.13 crores on account of restoration of commuted value of pension.
- EPFO leverages CSC network for submission of Jeevan Pramaan by pensioners-By leveraging the last mile network of over 3.65 lakh Common Services Centers, EPFO has provided its 67 lakh pensioners, a facility to submit Digital Jeevan Pramaan closer to their residence. In addition to CSC centers, EPS pensioners can also submit Jeevan Pramaan through 138 regional offices and 117 district offices and pension disbursing banks. A multi-agency model adopted by EPFO empowers EPS pensioners with choice and autonomy to select the service delivery agency as per their convenience.
- Apply for Scheme Certificate under EPS, 1995 on UMANG app.:– A new facility was launched to enable EPFO members to apply for Scheme Certificate under Employees’ Pension Scheme, 1995 through UMANG app. The ease of applying for Scheme Certificate through UMANG App will now help members to avoid unnecessary hardship of physically applying for it, especially during COVID-19 pandemic times. The facility shall benefit over 5.89 core subscribers.
Employer centric initiatives
- Integration of data of J&K Provident Fund with EPFO’s database: –The data pertaining to erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir Provident Fund Organisation was successfully migrated and integrated with EPFO’s database. This seamless assimilation has enabled employers of the Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh in filing their monthly returns and ensured social security cover to workers of these UTs. Further, for successful implementation, large scale training to EPFO officials and employers has also been imparted.
- Measures to implement EPF relief package under PMGKY– As a part of the relief package under PMGKY, Govt. of India has proposed to pay 24% of the monthly wages into EPF accounts subject to certain conditions. Benefits amounting to Rs. 2570 crores have been credited upfront to Aadhaar seeded UANs under the package till 30.09.2020, covering 44.69,662 employees from 2,81,939 establishments. Detailed guidelines alongwith FAQs were issued to implement the aforesaid package with wide publicity thereof through EPFO website, press releases, webinars, SMS to employers, and facebook& twitter handle of EPFO. Since the lockdown, EPFO offices have organized 8,585 webinars with 81,120 stakeholders, disseminating crucial information regarding various services provided by EPFO including benefits under PMGKY.
- Extension of due date for payment of contribution for wage month March 2020– Considering the unprecedented situation created by Covid-19 pandemic and the consequent lockdown, it was decided to allow grace period of 30 days (from 16.04.2020 to 15.05.2020) for filing of ECRs to employers of those establishments which have disbursed wages for March, 2020 to their employees. This provided much needed succour to employers facing liquidity crisis.
- Reduction in rate of contribution: The reduction in statutory rate of contribution from 12% to 10% for wage months May, June and July, 2020 for all class of establishments covered under the EPF & MP Act, 1952 announced on 13.05.2020 by the Central Government as part of Atma-Nirbhar Bharat package has been notified vide SO 1513 (E) dated 18.05.2020. Reduction in rate of EPF contributions is intended to benefit 4.3 crore employees and employers of 6.5 lakh establishments to tide over the immediate liquidity crisis to some extent.
- Filing of Electronic-Challan-cum-Receipt (ECR) made easier– Keeping in view the hardship being faced by employers under the current lockdown and to further ease compliance under the EPF Act, filing of monthly ECR has been separated from payment of statutory contributions reported in ECR. ECR can now be filed by an employer without the need of simultaneous payment of contributions which can be paid later after filing of ECR. The segregation of return from payment facilitated employers in availing 24% contribution by central government towards EPF.
- Relief to establishments from levy of penal damages: Considering the difficulty faced by the establishments in timely deposit of contributions or administrative charges during lockdown, it has been decided that such delays due to operational or economic reasons will not be treated as default and penal damages will not be levied for such delay.
- Employer’s DSC /e-Sign registration of authorized signatories: Many important tasks like KYC attestation, transfer claim attestation etc are done online by the authorized persons of employers using their digital signatures (DSC) or Aadhar based e-Signs on EPFO portal. For using DSC/e-Sign, one time approval from Regional Offices is required. In view of prevailing situations, EPFO decided to accept such requests through email also. This facility provides further relief to the employers and EPF members adversely impacted by the pandemic.
- Ensuring a transparent and objective compliance mechanism: e-Inspection was launched by Hon’ble Chairman, CBT and MOS (I/C), L&E with the purpose of enhancing ease of doing business and promoting transparency and objectivity in EPFO’s compliance machinery. It reduces cost of compliance for non-wilful defaulters as it allows employers to either declare closure of their business with supporting documents or disclose the amount in default with reasons and proposal to remit the un-paid amount. Initially, a pilot run was successfully conducted in two Regional offices at Agra &Karnal. Now, e-Inspection forms have been deployed in the login of employers of 30552 establishments, who have not filed ECR for 07 to 12 months during the period up to wage month Jan, 2020. It has been ensured that no period during the pandemic or lock-down is involved in the e-Inspection notices. Through e-inspection facility, information regarding the status of establishments and the unpaid amount would be available to EPFO and depending upon the nature of responses, further action can be taken to secure compliance. ROs have been instructed to ensure hand-holding of employers, particularly the smaller businesses, to make use of the facility since they lack professional support in such work areas.
- Virtual hearing facility for quasi-judicial cases– During the 227th meeting of CBT, EPF held on 09.09.2020, Hon’ble Minister of State (I/C), L&E launched virtual hearing facility for quasi-judicial cases under EPF&MP Act, 1952 which would enhance ease and convenience for employers and employees to appear in hearings from remote locations of their choice. The system entails savings on time, travel and expenditure for parties, ensures compliance to social distancing norms and fast tracks assessment of worker’s dues to generate better confidence in the quasi-judicial mechanism. Detailed instructions were issued for strict implementation of the mechanism in all field offices of EPFO.
- Facility for bulk transfer of funds and data from exempted trusts to EPFO:- Secretary (Labour & Employment) launched a new facility of bulk transfer of funds and data from exempted trusts to EPFO through a single payment on 7th October 2020. This will enhance ease of doing business by increasing the speed of funds transfer for exempted establishments. On change of employment for a member from exempted to unexempted establishment, his past accumulations are transferred to EPFO. Till now, exempted establishments had to approve and transfer the funds one-by-one for each member. Larger establishments requiring transferring the funds of many employees each day, found the process very cumbersome and time taking. Under the new facility, exempted establishments can upload bulk data and transfer the funds for large number of members, through a single payment. This initiative is expected to benefit around 1500 exempted establishments of EPFO. All transactions between EPFO and exempted establishments have already been made electronic, thereby eliminating issues regarding delay and reconciliation of funds transferred.
- Signing of Social Security Agreement with Brazil: – A Social Security Agreement was signed with Brazil on 25.01.2020 (official communication from MEA received in February). This is the 20th such agreement signed by India and Brazil is the 19th country with which India has signed a Social Security Agreement. This agreement will go a long way in providing Social Security benefits to international workers of both countries.
- EPFO conferred Digital Technology Sabha Award under “Enterprise Category”- EPFO won Digital Technology Sabha Award for developing Auto claim settlement process to respond to need during the pandemic. This project was developed in house and it helped to bring down Covid-19 claim settlement time to 72hrs.
- EPFO wins Gold award from SKOCH India for EPFiGMS– EPFO was conferred the SKOCH Digital India & e-Governance Award 2020 under the Category – Services Delivery – Government to Citizens (G2C) for its in-house grievance resolution portal- EPFiGMS. With the help of the portal, lodging of grievances and their resolution has become seamless and during the lockdown, when the facilitation and PRO centres of PF offices were not fully functional, EPFiGMS was a tool to mitigate the problems of stakeholders, eliminating the need to visit offices. During the year 2019-20, 9.23 lakh members benefited from EPFiGMS. During the lockdown period from 01.04.2020 to 30.09.2020, 5.93 lakh members availed benefits of the portal.
- WhatsApp based helpline and grievance redressal – EPFO has launched WhatsApp Business App based helpline cum grievance redressal mechanism and WhatsApp number of every RO is available on EPFO Website. Now subscribers, employers and pensioners can file grievances or seek guidance on any issue by sending a message on WhatsApp
- Increase in Ex-Gratia Death Relief Amount for EPFO employees– In order to provide assistance to kin of EPFO employees in the unfortunate event of their death due to Covid-19 while providing essential services to EPF members, it has been decided to enhance the ex-gratia death relief amount payable from Welfare Fund. The ex-gratia relief amount has been revised from the current limit of Rs. 3.90 Lakhs to Rs. 10 Lakhs. This is a step aimed at boosting the morale of EPFO employees who are risking life to provide social security services to EPF members in this hour of need.
- Contribution to PM CARES Fund– Employees of EPFO stand committed in the service of the Nation in every possible way during these testing times. They have come forward to support the Govt. in tackling this pandemic by voluntarily contributing one day’s salary amounting to around Rs. 2.5 crores to the PM CARES Fund.