Factors That May Affect Welfare Eligibility (21:V)

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This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by the Law Students' Legal Advice Program on August 1st, 2023.

A. Family Units, Dependency, and Spousal Relationships

Under welfare legislation, the Ministry pays assistance not to individuals, but rather to “family units”. The legislation deems family units to include a welfare applicant or recipient, their “dependent children” and their “spouse.” Currently, the legislation considers couples living in a marriage like relationship with several aspects of dependence or interdependency to be spouses after they have lived together for twelve months.

NOTE: Previously, the legislated time requirement for two unmarried people living together in a marriage-like relationship was only 3 months. Currently, the Ministry cannot deem two people who live together, but are not married, “spouses” until they have lived together for one year.

If two or more people are part of the same family unit, their combined assets and monthly income will be used to determine their ongoing eligibility for assistance and their monthly benefit amount will be calculated as a lump sum for a family unit of that size.

See the definitions of “applicant”, “dependent”, “dependent child” “family unit”, and “recipient” in s 1 of the EAA and the definition of “spouse” in s 1.1. The same definitions exist in the corresponding sections of the EAPWDA.

A "family unit" includes a person who is applying for or getting welfare as well as that person's dependants. A "dependant" can be a spouse or a dependent child.

NOTE: The Ministry does not consider other relatives, such as parents or adult children as dependants, even if they live with and rely upon the applicant.

To be considered a "dependent child", a child must:

  • Be under 19 years old (unless the child is 18 and getting PWD benefits);
  • Rely on the applicant for food, shelter, and clothing; AND
  • Live with the applicant for more than half of each month.

Where separated parents have shared 50% custody of a child, if only one of the parents receives welfare, the child is deemed to be that parent’s dependent child. Where both parents receive welfare, the child is the dependent child of the parent that is agreed to in writing (EAR ss 1(2) and 1(2.1); EAPWDR ss 1(2) and 1(2.1)).

Married couples who have separated but continue to live separate and apart under the same roof may qualify for welfare as individuals (not spouses) under section 1(5) of the EAR, and section 1(4) of the EAPWDR. Also see the Ministry’s policy about “separated married spouses” at https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/policies-for-government/bcea-policy-and-procedure-manual/support-and-shelter/family-composition?keyword=family&keyword=composition

If roommates do not want the Ministry to consider them a family unit, they must be able to show that they do not fit the definition of “spouse” in s 1.1 of the EAA and EAPWDA. In determining whether two people who live together fit the definition in s 1.1, the Ministry may look at common-sense indicia of a spousal relationship such as:

  • Whether the parties have separate bedrooms;
  • Whether they have separate bank accounts, divide bills, etc.;
  • Whether have they acknowledged a common law or sexual relationship as existing between them, either socially or for any other purpose;
  • Whether they share household responsibilities on a consistent basis, i.e. childcare, meal preparation, laundry, shopping, house cleaning, etc.; and
  • Whether either party has an ongoing sexual relationship with another person.

Cases where a disabled person lives with a roommate who helps with their disability caregiving needs can be tricky. Consider referring such cases to an organization such as Disability Alliance BC. Ministry policy provides that when it is assessing whether a disabled person is in a spousal relationship with a roommate, the Ministry must consider whether any interdependency in their relationship is attributable to the person’s disability caregiving needs (not a marriage like relationship) (see Ministry Procedures under “completing an assessment to determine if applicants or recipients are spouses” at https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/policies-for-government/bcea-policy-and-procedure-manual/support-and-shelter/family-composition?keyword=family&keyword=composition)

B. Failure to Meet Employment-Related Obligations

Under EAA s 13, EAPWDA, s 12, EAR s 29 and EAPWDR s 25, the Ministry may reduce assistance (for households that include dependent children) or declare a household ineligible for a period set by regulation (for households with no dependent children) if a recipient or adult dependant who has employment-related obligations:

  • Fails to accept suitable employment;
  • Voluntarily leaves employment without just cause;
  • Is dismissed from employment for just cause; or
  • Fails to demonstrate reasonable efforts to search for suitable employment.

“Suitable employment” is not defined in the income assistance legislation, but a past Ministry operational directive defined suitable employment as “available employment which the person is able to perform, that pays at least the minimum wage, and which will maximize the person’s independence from assistance”.

“Just cause” for leaving employment is not defined in the legislation, but the Ministry Policy and Procedure Manual states in the "reasons for sanctions" policy section that just cause for leaving employment includes:

  • A physical or mental condition which precludes maintaining employment;
  • Sexual or other harassment;
  • Discrimination;
  • Dangerous working conditions;
  • Following a spouse to new employment;
  • Leaving an abusive or violent domestic situation;
  • Having to care for a child or other immediate family member who has a mental or physical condition which requires the person to care for them; or
  • Reasonable assurance of another job.

If the Ministry decides that the person's boss fired them for just cause or they quit a job without just cause, penalties may apply, including:

  • If the person does not have dependent children, the Ministry may not allow the person to apply for income assistance or hardship assistance for two calendar months.
  • If the person does have dependent children, the Ministry can allow them to apply for income assistance or hardship assistance, but will reduce benefits by $100 for two months.

The details of the sanctions that the Ministry may apply under EAA s 13, EAPWDA s 12, EAR s 29, and EAPWDR s 25 are summarized in the Ministry's Policy and Procedures Manual in a table under "reasons for sanctions".

NOTE: The above employment-related sanctions do not apply to recipients listed in EAR s 29(4).

C. Failing to Accept or Pursue Income or Assets or Disposing of Property

Section 14 of the EAA (s 13 of the EAPWDA) and s 31 of the EAR (s 27 of the EAPWDR) outline the sanctions that the Ministry may apply to applicants who fail to pursue income or assets or who dispose of property for inadequate consideration.

The details of the sanctions that the Ministry may apply under EAA s 14 (s 13 of the EAPWDA) and EAR s 31 (s 27 of the EAPWDR) are summarized in the Ministry's Policy and Procedures Manual in the table as above, indexed under "Reasons for Sanctions".

D. Conviction or Civil Judgement for Welfare Fraud

As of Sept 1, 2015, a person is no longer ineligible for income assistance, PPMB assistance or disability assistance ONLY because of either:

  • A conviction under the Criminal Code in relation to obtaining welfare benefits by fraud or false or misleading representation (i.e. the former "lifetime ban" has been repealed);
  • A conviction of a statutory offence under the EAA or EAPWDA (or prior welfare legislation); OR
  • A declaration of ineligibility by the Ministry following the Ministry obtaining a civil judgment against them for a welfare overpayment.

People convicted of such offences either before or after September 1, 2015, or with declarations of ineligibility related to a civil judgment, can now qualify for regular income assistance, PPMB or disability assistance, if they meet all other eligibility requirements.

These family units are liable to repay the government, under section 27 of the EAA (s 18 of the EAPWDA), the amount or value of the overpayment that was the subject of the Criminal Code conviction and/or conviction under the EAA/EAPWDA and/or civil judgment. This amount is known as an “offence overpayment.”

Section 89, 89.1 and 89.2 of the EAR (74, 74.1 and 74.2 of the EAPWDR) detail a minimum monthly welfare benefit deduction and repayment structure that applies to an “offence overpayment,” as well as the exemptions from those deductions. The basic rule is a reduction of $100 per month reduction in welfare benefits for each person in a family unit who has an “offence overpayment.” Where a person was convicted under the Criminal Code, that deduction continues until the amount of the overpayment is repaid in full. Where a person was convicted of a statutory offence under the EAA or EAPWDA, that deduction continues for:

  • 12 months for a first conviction (unless the overpayment is repaid in less than 12 months)
  • 24 months for a second conviction, (unless the overpayment is repaid in less than 24 months); and
  • For a third or subsequent conviction, until the amount of the third or subsequent overpayment is repaid.

There is some degree of ministerial discretion to waive the minimum $100 repayment requirements in a given benefit month. The minister may waive the repayment for the following reasons:

  • The minister is satisfied that the family unit is homeless or at risk of becoming homeless
  • The minister is satisfied that a deduction would result in danger to the health of a person in the family unit; OR
  • A recipient in the family unit is liable for an offence overpayment but the person convicted of the criminal code offence or Act offence that resulted in the offence overpayment is not a member of the family unit for the benefit month.

Clinicians should consult the above-reference sections of the EA and EAPD legislation to see what specific repayment structure matches the client’s current family unit and welfare benefit status, and what exemptions the legislation might entitle them to.

E. Providing Inaccurate or Incomplete Information to the Ministry

If a family unit provides inaccurate or incomplete information regarding eligibility (under s 10 or 11 of the EAA or EAPWDA), and as a result receives assistance for which it was not eligible, the Ministry may apply sanctions under s 15.1 of the EAA (s 14.1 of the EAPWDA) and ss 32-34 of the EAR (ss 28-30 of the EAPWDR).

NOTE: The details of the sanctions that the Ministry may apply under s 15.1 of the EAA (s 14.1 of the EAPWDA) and ss 32-34 of the EAR (ss 28-30 of the EAPWDR) are summarized in the Ministry’s Policy and Procedures Manual at: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/policies-for-government/bcea-policy-and-procedure-manual/eligibility/sanctions

F. Outstanding Warrants

Since 1 June 2010, the legislation (EAA, s 15.2 and EAPWDA, s 14.2) has provided that where there is an outstanding warrant for a person under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act or any other enactment of Canada in relation to an indictable offence, that person will be ineligible to receive income assistance, disability assistance, or hardship assistance. Exceptions to these rules include people under 18, pregnant people, and people in the end stage of a terminal illness (see the EAR, s 38.1 and EAPWDR, s 34.1 for details).

If a person is ineligible to collect assistance due to an outstanding warrant, or a family unit’s benefits are reduced because a person within the family unit has an outstanding warrant issued against them, they may be able to collect two other forms of financial help:

  1. The Ministry may pay a repayable monthly supplement if a family unit can show that without financial help, they will experience undue hardship. Normally, the Ministry may only pay this form of assistance for three consecutive months, unless the Ministry authorizes payment for up to three additional months. The amount of the repayable warrant supplement provided is up to the amount of assistance the family unit would normally receive if none of the adults in the family unit were warrant holders; OR
  2. A repayable transportation supplement may be available to those whose warrants were issued in a jurisdiction other than the one in which they live and who are not able to cover the expense of traveling to that jurisdiction to deal with the warrant. The Ministry limits the amount of this supplement to the cost of the least expensive mode of travel.

If the Ministry denies a person’s application for these two supplements, an applicant may file a request for reconsideration, but if that fails, they cannot appeal to the EAAT.

If a person has a warrant that makes them ineligible for welfare, other people in their family unit can still get welfare at a reduced amount. Visit the below link to view a table of reduced welfare amounts for family units where an individual holds a warrant. These rates can be compared to the amount of assistance the family unit would normally receive if none of the adults in the family unit were warrant holders to ascertain the amount of repayable warrant supplement you may be eligible for: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/policies-for-government/bcea-policy-and-procedure-manual/bc-employment-and-assistance-rate-tables/income-assistance-warrant-holder-rate-table

For more information about how an outstanding warrant may affect a person’s eligibility for income assistance, the Community Legal Assistance Society has a detailed fact sheet at http://clasbc.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Outstanding_warrants_fact_sheet_FINAL.pdf. Also see the Ministry’s policy at: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/policies-for-government/bcea-policy-and-procedure-manual/eligibility/warrants

G. Labour Disputes

Applicants are not eligible for income assistance, PPMB assistance, or disability assistance if they or their adult dependant are on strike or locked out (EAR, s 14 and EAPWDR, s 13). An applicant in this situation may, however, qualify for hardship assistance under s 45 of the EAR or s 40 of the EAPWDR. If a person is not on strike themselves but cannot go to work because their union is honouring another union's picket line, they can apply for income assistance.

H. Being in Prison or “Other Lawful Place of Confinement”

A person in a “lawful place of confinement” or on temporary leave from such a place is not eligible for assistance: s 15 of EAR and s 14 of EAPWDR. However, pre-release prisoners are eligible to apply for welfare on an expedited basis, based on an immediate needs assessment (see the Ministry's policy at http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/policies-for-government/bcea-policy-and-procedure-manual/application-and-intake/immediate-needs). This is to ensure they receive welfare immediately upon release. The John Howard Society (http://www.johnhowardbc.ca) provides pre-release planning assistance for prisoners, including help with welfare applications.

I. Being a Full-Time Student

Recipients of disability assistance and their dependants may study either full-time or part-time. The rules for recipients of income assistance and PPMB assistance are more complicated. Generally, unless they meet very specific criteria (see below), full time students who are eligible for student loan funding are not eligible for income assistance or PPMB assistance during the school term (EAR s 16). This limitation does not affect the dependent children of income assistance and PPMB recipients.

Part-time students remain eligible for income assistance provided they meet other eligibility requirements, including employment obligations. One should still notify the ministry that they are attending part-time studies. Section 16 of the EAR sets out the period during which a full-time student is, in most cases, ineligible for income assistance or PPMB benefits. Ful-time students who are no longer eligible for student loan funding because they have used up their allowable loans, bursaries or grants may be eligible for income assistance or PPMB benefits during summer break if they cannot find work.

Students who are enrolled in unfunded programs (where student loans are not available) – such as high school completion, and adult basic education or English as a second language, may remain eligible for income assistance or PPMB benefits if they have received prior approval from the ministry.

When can a full-time student in a funded program of studies receive income or PPMB assistance?

As of July 12, 2021, if someone is already receiving income or PPMB assistance, they may be eligible to ask the Ministry for pre-approval to attend full-time studies for which student loans may be available, for up to two years. To be eligible, the person’s employment plan must have a condition requiring them to attend this program, and they must have been on assistance for the last 3 months (though that criteria can be waived in exceptional circumstances). For more information, see https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/policies-for-government/bcea-policy-and-procedure-manual/eligibility/education-and-training?keyword=students

J. Student Funding and Income Exemptions

If someone receiving welfare benefits is authorized to attend full or part time studies, and they receive funds related to being a student, some of those funds can be exempted to account for their school-related expenses. The rules here are quite complicated and depend on whether the studies are funded or unfunded, and also depend on the kind of welfare benefits the student receives.

For students who receive disability assistance, the following things are all exempted as income: education and training allowances, scholarships, grants, bursaries and money from an RESP. However, student loans advanced to recipients of disability assistance are only exempt as income up to the amount of the person’s “education costs” and “daycare costs.” Section 8 of Schedule B to the EAPDWR defines both terms.

For students on income assistance or PPMB assistance who are authorized to attend full-time funded studies (see above), if the student receives funds such as money from an RESP, a training allowance, or grants, bursaries, or scholarships (other than grants, bursaries or scholarships under the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act), the Ministry can exempt those funds up to the total of their “day care costs,” “education costs,” and “education-related living costs” (see EAR, Schedule B, s 8 for definitions).

Other students who receive income assistance or PPMB benefits can have funds from training allowances, student loans, grants, bursaries, scholarships, or RESPs exempted by the Ministry as their income up to the amount of their “education costs” and “childcare costs.” Section 8 of Schedule B to the EAR defines those terms. This applies if:

  • The student is the dependent child (under 19) of a recipient of income assistance or PPMB benefits (note: dependent children may also have education and childcare costs exempted from any federal or provincial student loans they receive);
  • The person is a part-time student in a program that is not eligible for student loan funding;
  • The person has received prior permission from the Ministry to enroll as a full-time student in a program that is not eligible for student loan funding;
  • The Ministry excuses the student from having employment-related obligations under s 29(4) of the EAR, and the student enrolls part-time in a program that is eligible for student loan funding (note: people in this category (which includes people with the PPMB designation) may also have education and childcare costs exempted from any federal or provincial student loans they receive); or
  • The student is on income assistance and is a part-time student in a program that is eligible for student loans (note that students in this situation cannot have any money received from Canada or provincial student loans exempted as income).

K. Leaving the Province for More Than 30 Days

Welfare recipients who leave British Columbia for more than a total of 30 days in a calendar year usually cease to be eligible for benefits (EAR, s 17 and EAPWDR, s 15).

If a recipient wishes to leave the province for more than 30 days in a calendar year and still get welfare, they must try to obtain prior authorization for continued assistance. The minister has discretion to authorize absences required to avoid undue hardship, to allow participation in a formal education program, or to obtain medical therapy prescribed by a medical practitioner.

L. If the Ministry Refuses Income Assistance, PPMB Benefits, or Disability Assistance

If the Ministry finds someone ineligible for income assistance, PPMB benefits, or disability assistance, ensure that they receive this in writing, as they may want to challenge this decision as discussed in Section XI: Appeals. They may also still be eligible for hardship assistance.

© Copyright 2023, The Greater Vancouver Law Students' Legal Advice Society.