Sunday, May 31, 2015

Advocacy: Access Denied: Shut Out of BC's Welfare System

BC government slashed access to welfare while claiming to enhance services, complaint filed today alleges
Dramatically reduced office hours, complicated website and under-resourced call centres create insurmountable barriers, complaint alleges

ACCESS DENIED: SHUT OUT OF BC’SWELFARE SYSTEM Complaint to the Ombudsperson of British Columbia regarding service delivery at the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation 

Filed by the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre (BCPIAC) to the Ombudsperson of British Columbia

on behalf of Together Against Poverty Society (Victoria) Atira Women’s Resource Society (Vancouver) First United Church (Vancouver) The Kettle Society (Vancouver) Disability Alliance BC Abbotsford Community Services (Abbotsford) The Advocacy Centre (Nelson) Upper Skeena Counselling and Legal Assistance Society (Hazelton) Dze L K'ant Friendship Centre (Smithers) 

(May 12, 2015)
VANCOUVER (Coast Salish Territories) – In a 40 page complaint filed this morning, nine social service agencies from across the province have asked the Ombudsperson of BC to launch a systemic investigation into service reductions at the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation that shut out many eligible people from accessing income assistance. The complaint, filed by the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre (BCPIAC), a law office in Vancouver, alleges that the government has created insurmountable barriers that deprive people of critical income support to which they are legally entitled.
The alleged barriers include office closures and significant reductions in office hours, making it difficult for people to speak to Ministry staff in person, channelling calls to under-resourced centralized call centres that serve the whole province and have lengthy wait times, and the creation of a complicated, 90-screen online application process that many vulnerable people have difficulty navigating.   The complaint also points out that most income assistance recipients do not have phones or internet access, and many are not computer literate, so the Ministry’s changes do not make sense for the users of its services.
“The government claims that it has expanded access to income assistance services, when it has done just the opposite,” said Lobat Sadrehashemi, staff lawyer at the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre (BCPIAC). “Requiring people to use a difficult online form and a backlogged call centre while slashing in-person services has made accessing help a nightmare for many vulnerable people. When you put all these changes together, the result is that people are shut out of services that they have a legal right to access.”
The complaint was necessary, the groups said, because the government has failed to respond to numerous direct complaints about the barriers to accessing services.
“We have tried to get the government’s attention, but they haven’t taken our concerns seriously,” said Stephen Portman, of Together Against Poverty Society. “If people can’t access these basic supports, we know that they will end up on the street. That’s why we have no choice but to ask for an independent investigation of the Ministry’s practices. How can the government fix the problem when it claims that it has actually made things better?”
The complaint alleges that since all calls to the Ministry have been centralized in provincial call centres, it has become impossible for many people to contact the Ministry for help. According to the government, average wait times on the phone have increased to more than half an hour.
Amber Prince, an advocate at Atira Women’s Resource Society said: “Many women with whom I work have to wait at least 45 minutes just to talk to somebody. And then many of them are told there is a time limit for their call, and if the call goes over, they are disconnected and have to call back all over again, this time with a different Ministry staff person. Nobody should have to accept this kind of treatment by their government.”
In 2005, BCPIAC filed an Ombudsperson complaint about a range of Ministry practices that limited access to welfare services. After a thorough investigation, the Ombudsperson found that the government had created unfair barriers to access and made 25 recommendations to improve “fairness and accountability” in income assistance. While a recent update from the Ombudsperson reports that the Ministry has made some progress on those recommendations, BCPIAC’s new complaint alleges that the government’s ”technological enhancements” have created new, unfair obstacles.
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BC Social Welfare System: BC man says three-month wait for disability payments too long

 Social service agencies tell ombudsperson that welfare system rules are unfair
 

BC's Social Welfare System: Woman with MS caught in disability limbo

Woman with MS caught in disability limbo
Lexi Bainas / The Citizen                                    


A Valley woman with multiple sclerosis is concerned that she's having to jump through extra hoops to get assistance from the Duncan office of the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation.

Suzanne Cusson has been dealing with MS for decades but had been managing on her own, even operating her own business, until a few years back, when she found herself forced to apply for benefits in 2012.
Unexpected roadbl o cks appeared, she said.

"I owned a 2010 travel trailer and they said I had to get rid of everything before they'd even consider me for benefits," she said.

She sold her trailer and finally started regular assistance in November 2012 but was not allowed to go onto disability benefits.

Everything had been going smoothly until December 2014, a time that should have been happy for her.
"I gave birth on Dec. 5, 2014. But on Dec. 30 I received a letter stating I needed to bring in all my work information, my T4s, my income information, my bank account dating back six months. So I got as much as I could together. To make a long story short, I was denied benefits in January, and I've been fighting this. I have MS, I can't go to work. I have a newborn. What am I supposed to do?" she asked.

"I was on assistance. But they closed my file in March. I never believed they would cut me off, because I have MS and I have a newborn. But, they cut me off so I asked for a reconsideration."

She finally got an application package in the mail and then had to wait three weeks to see an advocate but finally she got someone to take a second look.

"They finally took my reconsideration request, they looked at it and, on May 14, they said I should never have been deemed ineligible and that my case needed to be re-opened.

"I went over there this morning and [the acting supervisor] said no, that because I re-applied I had to wait for the intake worker to call me. I should never have been deemed ineligible to start with. My file should have been re-opened and I should have been issued cheques for March, April and May."

Cusson said she was concerned because the acting supervisor "was the original guy who told me 'no' to disability because I owned too much. I don't own anything now. It seems personal with him. I don't understand why. I had to beg, borrow and almost steal to get money to pay my bills. But now he's saying he doesn't have to go with what the reconsideration branch says. I have to go with an application process again. That will take six to eight weeks," she said.

The reconsideration branch were trying to short circuit an overly long process but their
effort failed, she said.

"He could have helped me right now. They could have reopened my file, given me my assistance for March, April and May today. I don't think he should be the one who overrides the reconsideration branch, what his peer did. How could he say no?" Now, Cusson is unsure what the future holds.

"If I have start again, I will. But what do I do about the months I had to borrow money? I'm already behind."
Right now, the only money she has coming in is from her child tax credit, she said.

Cusson has two older children. She receives $75 each in child support for them and then there's her child tax benefit.

"My oldest daughter is 18. My child tax benefit is $640 so I've been living on $790 for the past three months."

The rent of a trailer, Hydro costs and other expenses come to more than that every month, she said.
"If I was a drug-dealing prostitute with a drug or alcohol problem, they'd be helping me but because I was a business owner they don't understand it," Cusson said.

"They don't know that because I have MS it takes me 10 times longer to do a simple thing. I was diagnosed when I was 21 years old but they never told me what to expect. The fact that I'm still walking is incredible," she said.

According to the Ministry of Social Development's communications department, "due to privacy considerations, information on specific cases cannot be provided."

However, the ministry's policy's also states that an individual must continue to meet the eligibility requirements in order to remain on income assistance and, "periodically, the ministry will conduct random checks, asking people to submit documents such as bank statements or information on assets."

If an individual is dissatisfied with an eligibility decision they can request reconsideration.

The policy says, "This is conducted by a ministry employee who was not involved in the original decision."
Reconsideration is "a new and final ministry decision on eligibility" but anyone not satisfied with the results of a reconsideration, "may request an appeal by submitting a Notice of Appeal form to the Employment and Assistance Appeal Tribunal within seven business days of the receipt of the reconsideration decision," the policy says.


© Cowichan Valley Citizen - See more at: http://www.cowichanvalleycitizen.com/news/cowichan-valley-woman-with-ms-caught-in-disability-limbo-1.1948101#sthash.An45LUx4.dpuf
A Valley woman with multiple sclerosis is concerned that she's having to jump through extra hoops to get assistance from the Duncan office of the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation.
Suzanne Cusson has been dealing with MS for decades but had been managing on her own, even operating her own business, until a few years back, when she found herself forced to apply for benefits in 2012.
Unexpected roadbl o cks appeared, she said.
"I owned a 2010 travel trailer and they said I had to get rid of everything before they'd even consider me for benefits," she said.
She sold her trailer and finally started regular assistance in November 2012 but was not allowed to go onto disability benefits.
Everything had been going smoothly until December 2014, a time that should have been happy for her.
"I gave birth on Dec. 5, 2014. But on Dec. 30 I received a letter stating I needed to bring in all my work information, my T4s, my income information, my bank account dating back six months. So I got as much as I could together. To make a long story short, I was denied benefits in January, and I've been fighting this. I have MS, I can't go to work. I have a newborn. What am I supposed to do?" she asked.
"I was on assistance. But they closed my file in March. I never believed they would cut me off, because I have MS and I have a newborn. But, they cut me off so I asked for a reconsideration."
She finally got an application package in the mail and then had to wait three weeks to see an advocate but finally she got someone to take a second look.
"They finally took my reconsideration request, they looked at it and, on May 14, they said I should never have been deemed ineligible and that my case needed to be re-opened.
"I went over there this morning and [the acting supervisor] said no, that because I re-applied I had to wait for the intake worker to call me. I should never have been deemed ineligible to start with. My file should have been re-opened and I should have been issued cheques for March, April and May."
Cusson said she was concerned because the acting supervisor "was the original guy who told me 'no' to disability because I owned too much. I don't own anything now. It seems personal with him. I don't understand why. I had to beg, borrow and almost steal to get money to pay my bills. But now he's saying he doesn't have to go with what the reconsideration branch says. I have to go with an application process again. That will take six to eight weeks," she said.
The reconsideration branch were trying to short circuit an overly long process but their
effort failed, she said.
"He could have helped me right now. They could have reopened my file, given me my assistance for March, April and May today. I don't think he should be the one who overrides the reconsideration branch, what his peer did. How could he say no?" Now, Cusson is unsure what the future holds.
"If I have start again, I will. But what do I do about the months I had to borrow money? I'm already behind."
Right now, the only money she has coming in is from her child tax credit, she said.
Cusson has two older children. She receives $75 each in child support for them and then there's her child tax benefit.
"My oldest daughter is 18. My child tax benefit is $640 so I've been living on $790 for the past three months."
The rent of a trailer, Hydro costs and other expenses come to more than that every month, she said.
"If I was a drug-dealing prostitute with a drug or alcohol problem, they'd be helping me but because I was a business owner they don't understand it," Cusson said.
"They don't know that because I have MS it takes me 10 times longer to do a simple thing. I was diagnosed when I was 21 years old but they never told me what to expect. The fact that I'm still walking is incredible," she said.
According to the Ministry of Social Development's communications department, "due to privacy considerations, information on specific cases cannot be provided."
However, the ministry's policy's also states that an individual must continue to meet the eligibility requirements in order to remain on income assistance and, "periodically, the ministry will conduct random checks, asking people to submit documents such as bank statements or information on assets."
If an individual is dissatisfied with an eligibility decision they can request reconsideration.
The policy says, "This is conducted by a ministry employee who was not involved in the original decision."
Reconsideration is "a new and final ministry decision on eligibility" but anyone not satisfied with the results of a reconsideration, "may request an appeal by submitting a Notice of Appeal form to the Employment and Assistance Appeal Tribunal within seven business days of the receipt of the reconsideration decision," the policy says.

© Cowichan Valley Citizen - See more at: http://www.cowichanvalleycitizen.com/news/cowichan-valley-woman-with-ms-caught-in-disability-limbo-1.1948101#sthash.An45LUx4.dpuf