Financial Help for People with Disabilities (No. 289)

From Clicklaw Wikibooks

People with disabilities have options to get financial help from the government. Learn about the government programs available, and where you can turn to get help and find more information.

Understand your legal options

Disability assistance for “persons with disabilities”

Someone can get disability assistance from the BC government if they are designated as a “person with disabilities”. If you qualify for disability assistance, you get a higher monthly income than someone on basic income assistance in BC. You also get a wider range of medical benefits (such as coverage for health equipment), a higher asset limit (meaning you can own more and still qualify for assistance), and more income exemptions.

Qualifying for the benefit

To qualify for disability assistance:

  • You must be at least 18, live in BC, and meet immigration rules.
  • You must have income and assets within certain limits.
  • Your disability must be severe, expected to last at least two years, and restrict your daily living activities.
  • You must also need help from another person, an assistive device, or an assistance animal.

Applying for the benefit

To get disability assistance, you apply to the government Ministry responsible for welfare in BC, the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. To start, you apply for welfare and attend an eligibility interview.

If you meet the Ministry’s basic criteria, you complete a Persons with Disabilities (PWD) application form. The form includes portions for your doctor and other health professionals to complete.

For more information, see the Ministry’s website at gov.bc.ca/sdpr or call 1-866-866-0800.

Shortly, we describe options for getting help in applying for benefits.

Tax benefits for people with disabilities

Several tax benefits are available to people with disabilities. A key one is the disability tax credit. It helps a person with disabilities or those supporting them reduce the amount of income tax they may have to pay.

For someone to be eligible for the disability tax credit, a medical practitioner must certify the person has a severe and prolonged impairment in physical or mental functions. The Canada Revenue Agency website has details at cra-arc.gc.ca/disability.

Tip

Being eligible for the disability tax credit can open the door to other government programs such as the registered disability savings plan (explained shortly) and the child disability benefit (a tax-free monthly payment made to families with a child who has a severe and prolonged disability).

Savings plan for people with disabilities

A registered disability savings plan (RDSP) is a savings plan intended to help parents and others save for the long-term financial security of a disabled person.

For every $1 put in an RDSP account, the federal government can match with up to $3. This is the Canada Disability Savings Grant.

For people living on a low income (less than $30,000), the federal government will put in $1,000 each year for 20 years. This is the Canada Disability Savings Bond.

Anyone under 60 who is eligible for the disability tax credit can establish an RDSP. For more information, see the federal government website at canada.ca/rdsp.

Disability benefits for workers

The Canada Pension Plan (CPP) provides benefits to workers who become disabled. If you become disabled and cannot work at any job on a regular basis, you may qualify for a monthly disability benefit under the CPP.

The amount of your disability benefit is based on how much you contributed to the Canada Pension Plan while working. The federal government website provides current benefit amounts at canada.ca/cpp.

Qualifying for the benefit

To qualify for a CPP disability benefit:

  1. You must be under age 65.
  2. You must have contributed to the Canada Pension Plan for at least four of the last six years (or three of the last six years if you have contributed for at least 25 years).
  3. The government must find you have a physical or mental disability that is both severe and prolonged.

“Severe” means you have a mental or physical disability that regularly stops you from doing any type of gainful work. “Prolonged” means your disability is long-term and indefinite or is likely to result in death.

Applying for the benefit

You must apply in writing for the CPP disability benefit. To get the application form, go to canada.ca/cpp or call toll-free 1-800-277-9914.

Shortly, we describe options for getting help in applying for benefits.

Other government benefits for disabled workers

Employment Insurance benefits

Disabled workers can also seek help through the Employment Insurance (EI) program. EI provides benefits to people who lose their jobs. It also helps those who can’t work because of sickness, or need time off work to care for a family member.

You may be eligible to get up to 15 weeks of EI sickness benefits if you're unable to work because of sickness or injury.

EI also offers family caregiver benefits and compassionate care benefits. These can help if you have to miss work temporarily to care for a family member who is critically ill or injured, or gravely ill with a significant risk of death.

For more on EI benefits, see the federal government website at canada.ca/ei.

Workers compensation benefits

You may be able to get compensation from WorkSafeBC if you're a victim of a work accident or have a work-related illness.

Support for return to work

The Canada Pension Plan offers a voluntary program to help CPP disability benefit recipients return to work. The program offers vocational counseling, financial support for training, and job search services.

Financial help for students with disabilities

Several government programs offer financial help for students with disabilities.

Grants and bursaries for students with disabilities

The federal government offers a grant program for students with a permanent disability. It is designed to help with the cost of post-secondary education.

The BC government offers a supplemental bursary for students with a permanent disability. Another BC grant program, the access grant, helps students with a permanent disability by replacing $1,000 in BC student loan funding.

The federal government also offers a grant program for services and equipment for students with a permanent disability. This is to help disabled students who require exceptional education-related services or equipment.

If you have used the funds available through that federal grant program, you can apply to receive the BC government’s assistance for exceptional services and equipment for disabled students.

Forgiven student loans

The BC government offers a student loan repayment assistance plan for borrowers with a permanent disability. This plan helps you manage your student loan debt by reducing your monthly payment and letting you pay back what you can reasonably afford.

Students with a severe permanent disability can apply to have their student loans forgiven (so they don’t have to repay the loans). To qualify, the disability must prevent them from working and from participating in post-secondary studies for the rest of their life.

Tip

The BC government’s StudentAid BC website has information on student loans, grants, and scholarships. Search the site for “disability” to find information on programs for students with disabilities.

Common questions

The government turned down my application for disability assistance. Can I challenge it?

Yes. If the BC Ministry of Social Development & Poverty Reduction denies you disability assistance or reduces your benefits, you have the right to challenge their decision. See our information on reconsiderations and appeals of income assistance, no. 288.

A warrant is out for my arrest. Can I get disability assistance?

Not if you have an outstanding arrest warrant for an indictable or hybrid offence anywhere in Canada. If you do, you cannot get income or disability assistance in BC. You must first do something about the warrant. See our information on outstanding warrants and welfare, no. 204.

Get help

With applying for disability benefits

For help in applying for disability benefits, you could seek out an advocate. Advocates are community workers trained to help people, including with the paperwork involved. PovNet has a Find an Advocate Map at povnet.org. Clicklaw’s HelpMap lists dozens of advocates in BC.

At student legal clinics in the Lower Mainland and Victoria, law students help people with disabilities who cannot afford a lawyer. The students help with applying for disability benefits and with appeals. In Victoria, call 250-385-1221 or visit uvic.ca/law/about/centre. In the Lower Mainland, call 604-822-5791 or visit lslap.bc.ca.

More information

Disability Alliance BC has help sheets on BC disability benefits and Canada Pension Plan disability benefits.

Toll-free: 1-800-663-1278
Web: disabilityalliancebc.org

Legal Services Society offers free booklets on “How to Apply for Welfare” and “Welfare Benefits” that explain disability assistance from the BC government.

Toll-free: 1-866-577-2525
Web: legalaid.bc.ca

The Canadian government offers a Benefits Finder at canadabenefits.gc.ca that asks several questions about your situation and gives a list of possible government benefit programs, with links to more information.


[updated June 2018]

The above was last reviewed for legal accuracy by David Butcher QC, Wilson Butcher.



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