I Have No Money for Food or Shelter
The Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction ("the Ministry") is responsible for providing welfare support in BC, which includes income assistance benefits, disability assistance for Persons with Disabilities ("PWD"), and benefits for Persons with Persistent Multiple Barriers to Employment ("PPMB"). The one exception is where the applicant lives on an Indian reserve. For anyone living on reserve, welfare programs are the responsibility of Indigenous Services Canada (formerly called Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada) and are administered by First Nations bands and tribal councils.
Both the Ministry and Indigenous Services Canada can provide funds for shelter and support to people who qualify for regular welfare benefits, including disability benefits (see the section in this Guide "I need to apply for disability benefits"). In some cases, they can also provide hardship benefits for people who don't qualify for regular welfare benefits. Workers at the Ministry and First Nations bands will also know about emergency shelters in the area.
|If you live on reserve, call the First Nations band office and ask to speak to the social development worker. This person can help with your application for welfare.|
- Applying for welfare from the Ministry in BC has two stages. You can start the first stage in three ways:
- by calling the Ministry Call Centre at 1-866-866-0800, and telling them that you want to apply for welfare,
- by completing the welfare application process online at www.myselfserve.gov.bc.ca (you must know your SIN number to apply online, have an email address, and create a BCeID user account ), or
- by going in person to a Ministry office.
- At this first stage:
- if you are leaving an abusive situation (e.g. emotional, financial, physical or other abuse from a spouse, partner or other relative), it is important to tell the Ministry worker right away. The Ministry should schedule the second stage of your welfare application, called an eligibility interview, within one business day, and give you some help with food, shelter or medical attention before your eligibility interview if you have urgent needs.
- if you have an urgent need for shelter, food or medical help (like paying for a prescription), and cannot wait three weeks to start receiving welfare benefits, then you need to tell the Ministry worker. Ask for an Immediate Needs Assessment. If you are eligible for an Immediate Needs Assessment, the Ministry should complete your eligibility interview as soon as possible, within five business days. While you are waiting for your eligibility interview, the Ministry should make sure your immediate needs are met (for example, by giving you food vouchers, money or bus tickets if you need medical transportation, etc.).
|As of May 2017, Ministry offices and the Call Centre were experiencing significant backlogs, causing delays in Immediate Needs Assessments. If you are in serious need and are not getting a prompt response from the Ministry (including the Call Centre), speak with an advocate.|
What happens next
After finishing the first stage of the welfare application, most people have to spend three weeks looking for work, and provide the Ministry with proof of their work search. During those three weeks you do not receive any financial help from the Ministry. Once your work search is over, the second stage of applying for welfare is an eligibility interview with the Ministry. An eligibility interview is a detailed interview, in person or by phone, to see if you are eligible for income assistance or hardship benefits.
If you qualify for welfare, the Ministry should get funds to you shortly after your eligibility interview. If you don't qualify for regular welfare, you may still qualify for hardship assistance. Some kinds of hardship assistance (but not all) must be repaid to the Ministry.
|One exception to the requirement to do a three week work search before the eligibility interview with the Ministry is if you have an urgent need for shelter, food or medical attention. There are other exceptions, like single parents with a child under three, people 65 or over, or those with a physical or medical condition that precludes them from looking for work.. For a full list of people who do not have to do a three week work search, see the BC Employment and Assistance (BCEA) Application Policy.|
Where to get help
See the Resource List in this Guide for a list of helpful resources. Your best bets are:
- The Legal Services Society publications How to Apply for Welfare and Income Assistance on Reserve in British Columbia.
- BC Employment and Assistance website for Ministry policy and further information.
- PovNet, for their "Find An Advocate" feature for welfare advocates near you.
- Access Pro Bono, Lawyer Referral Service, and private bar lawyers.
- The Clicklaw common question "I have to go on welfare. What do I need to know before I apply?." Clicklaw has many common questions on the topic "Pensions, benefits & welfare."
Before meeting with a lawyer or advocate, complete the form Preparing for Your Interview included in this Guide. Make sure you bring copies of all documents relating to your case.
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Alison Ward, July 2021.|
|Legal Help for British Columbians © Cliff Thorstenson and Courthouse Libraries BC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada Licence.|