Persistence leads to reimbursement for four years of underpayment

Authority Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation
Details

Fraser had been receiving income assistance for person with disabilities for the past four years. A couple months earlier, Fraser’s advocate noticed the amount Fraser was receiving seemed lower than it should have been. When Fraser talked to the ministry, the ministry agreed to increase the amount of assistance he would receive each month. The ministry didn’t, however, give Fraser any retroactive payments for assistance. Fraser thought he should have received in the past. Fraser thought this was unfair and said the ministry didn’t give him any reasons for its decision and didn’t tell him about any appeal options.

When Fraser contacted us with his complaint, we decided to investigate whether the ministry had followed a fair procedure in assessing the amount of assistance Fraser had been eligible to receive. During our investigation, we spoke with the ministry about Fraser’s complaint and reviewed the ministry’s records.

When we reviewed the ministry’s file notes, we discovered that a ministry worker had reviewed Fraser’s file but didn’t tell Fraser the outcome of the review. The worker had decided that the ministry hadn’t made any errors in calculating Fraser’s past assistance and that the ministry therefore didn’t have to compensate Fraser with any retroactive payments. Because the ministry never told Fraser about this decision, Fraser also didn’t know that he had a statutory right to appeal the decision. We therefore consulted with the ministry, and the ministry agreed to discuss with its staff the importance of communicating decisions to its clients and informing clients about their right to request reconsideration of ministry decisions that affect their assistance.

As we still had questions about how the ministry had calculated Fraser’s assistance, we reviewed the ministry’s records further. The records showed that at the time that Fraser applied for assistance four years earlier, he had submitted several documents related to his shelter costs, including a house insurance premium. Even though house insurance premiums are allowable shelter costs that the ministry includes when issuing assistance, the file notes showed that the ministry had not included Fraser’s house insurance premium in calculating his disability assistance. We discovered that Fraser had therefore not received the full amount of assistance that he had been eligible to receive for the past four years.

While we were investigating Fraser’s complaint, the ministry told Fraser that it had made an error in calculating his assistance, but that it could only compensate him for errors that had occurred in the past 12 calendar months. The ministry gave Fraser a cheque reimbursing him for its most recent underpayments and then told Fraser that he could request reconsideration if he wanted to dispute that decision.

As the records showed that the ministry’s underpayments occurred for four years and not only for the past 12 months, it remained unclear to us how the ministry was following a fair procedure in these circumstances. We spoke with the regional office which confirmed that the ministry can reimburse a client for underpayments beyond the most recent 12 calendar months, with the approval from a ministry assistant deputy minister.

As a result of our investigation, the ministry agreed to conduct a review of Fraser’s entire assistance file. Once the review was completed, the ministry told us that there had been several underpayment errors on Fraser’s file over the past four years. The ministry also said that it had recently implemented a new computer system, which provided staff with new tools and many of the errors that occurred on Fraser’s file shouldn’t occur again.

After reviewing Fraser’s file, the ministry calculated its total underpayment to Fraser over four years to be $4,620.22. The ministry issued a cheque compensating Fraser with the full amount of the underpayment. Only then were we finally satisfied that Fraser’s complaint was fairly resolved.

Category Income and Benefits
Type Case Summary
Fiscal Year 2013
Location The Interior