Administrative Barriers on Reserve

Authority Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation

When Janet moved into her new rental accommodation, she submitted the shelter information form required by the ministry.

Almost two years later, the ministry contacted Janet to say they had recently learned her address was on First Nations reserve land. On reserve, the Band, through Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) – and not the ministry – had responsibility for issuing her disability assistance. The ministry wrote to Janet to say they were taking collection action against her and had started deducting payments for the debt from her monthly disability cheque.

Janet did not have the funds to pay the ministry back the $20,000 in disability assistance she had received since she moved onto the reserve. Desperate for help, she contacted us.

We learned that Janet had adequately notified the ministry of her move to an address on reserve land, but it appeared the ministry never informed her of the income assistance rules for citizens who live on reserve. The ministry acknowledged that the payments were a result of ministry error.

As a result of our investigation, the ministry decided not to pursue recovery of funds from Janet. The ministry also agreed to reimburse Janet, in full, for deductions that had been made to her monthly disability cheques. Instead, the ministry approached INAC directly for repayment. Furthermore, we learned that the ministry had updated its shelter information form to clearly indicate whether the rental accommodation is on reserve land: now, when processing the form, ministry officials can refer the applicant to INAC when appropriate.

The ministry also agreed to continue working with INAC on the development of policy for people moving on and off reserve – including considering a possible mechanism to recover overpayments directly from INAC. When we followed up, Janet was relieved. Not only did the ministry not pursue repayment from her, steps were being taken that could prevent the same situation from happening to others.

Names in our case summaries have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals. This case study can also be found in the 2016-2017 Annual Report.

Category Income and Benefits
Type Case Summary
Fiscal Year 2016
Location The Interior