Ombudsperson Complaint About Welfare Access

BC Ombudsperson Complaint About Welfare Service Delivery

On May 12, 2015 BCPIAC filed a complaint to the BC Ombudsperson on behalf of nine community service agencies across the province, based on evidence that some of BC’s most vulnerable people are being denied access to basic welfare services through the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation.

The Ministry has radically changed its service delivery model over the past decade, increasingly moving its services online and over a centralized 1-866 phone number, while in-person services have been dramatically reduced. Fourteen Ministry offices have been closed completely since 2005, and two offices in the Downtown Eastside are only available for drop-in appointments for two hours each day. Call centre wait times are long (often averaging an hour), and when callers finally get through, the Ministry places arbitrary limits on the length of the call. The initial online application for income assistance is lengthy and complex, with no dedicated in-person Ministry services available to assist applicants with its completion.

While this is a frustrating trend with any government service, it is particularly problematic for income assistance – which the Ministry itself describes as “income of last resort.”  Many people who need to access social assistance are unable to afford the technology on which these changes rely, or may have other barriers such as disabilities or language barriers that make navigating online and automated telephone services difficult (if not impossible).

In a decision dated June 23, 2015, then Ombudsperson, Kim Carter, denied the request of nine social service agencies from across the province for a systemic investigation into service reductions at the Ministry that shut out many eligible people from accessing income assistance.

BCPIAC continues to assist people in challenging barriers created by the Ministry’s service delivery model through individual Ombudsperson complaints, human rights complaints, and judicial review of Employment and Assistance Appeal Tribunal decisions that raise these issues.

In May 2017, BCPIAC – together with over 60 organizations from across the province – wrote an open letter to all candidates in the 2017 provincial election, calling on candidates to speak out in favour of making income assistance accessible to those that need it, and calling for action in the form of fully resourcing the Ministry to fulfill its duty to the citizens of British Columbia.  The open letter can be accessed here.

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