Income Assistance: Reconsiderations and Appeals (Script 288)

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What help does the BC Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction provide?

The Ministry provides income assistance, disability assistance, hardship assistance, and supplements to eligible people in need. These payments are sometimes called “social assistance” or “welfare”. They are delivered through the Employment and Assistance Programs. For more on these programs, check the Ministry website.

What laws deal with social assistance, reconsiderations, and appeals?

Two laws govern BC’s social assistance programs:

What are your reconsideration and appeal rights?

There are 3 levels of review for ministry decisions on social assistance or welfare.

  • You can ask the ministry for a reconsideration of ministry decisions that deny, discontinue, or reduce benefits or supplements. For example, you can ask for a reconsideration if the ministry denies your application for monthly assistance or a supplement.
  • You can appeal reconsideration decisions to the Employment and Assistance Appeal Tribunal in some cases.
  • Finally, you can ask for judicial review by the BC Supreme Court of Tribunal decisions, but only in limited cases.

There are 2 other options in cases of problem conduct or interaction with the Tribunal or unfair treatment. They are explained at the end of this script.

Three levels of review

1. Ask for a Reconsideration by the ministry—the first review level

If you disagree with a ministry decision, first discuss it with the ministry person who made it. If you’re still unhappy with the decision, ask for a reconsideration. You can ask for a reconsideration online. Or you can get a package from the Ministry that includes a Request for Reconsideration form to complete. It’s a good idea to get help completing this form (sources of help are listed at the end of this script).

Not every decision can be reconsidered, but if you are not sure about your case, complete a Request for Reconsideration form and give it to the ministry. A reconsideration officer will tell you if the decision can be reconsidered. The ministry website has more on this.

How long do you have to submit the reconsideration form?

You must sign and return the Request for Reconsideration form within 20 business days from when the Ministry first notified you of its decision. Include any other documents and evidence you need to support your case—but you can’t submit any new documents after the decision has been made. If you need more time to collect documents, request an extension when you give the signed form to the Ministry. You can ask for an extension of up to 10 business days.

What is a reconsideration or appeal supplement?

If you are applying for reconsideration or appeal of a decision to cut off your benefits or a supplement, you can ask the Ministry for a repayable supplement while you are waiting for the result. However, be aware that you will need to sign an agreement to repay this money if you lose your reconsideration or appeal.

When is the reconsideration decision made?

A reconsideration officer at the Ministry will review your request and make a new decision about your case. The new decision will be mailed to you within 10 business days after the Ministry receives your signed reconsideration request (or within 20 days if you got an extension). Included with the new decision is a Notice of Appeal form to use if you disagree with the new decision and want to appeal it.

2. Appeal to the Employment and Assistance Appeal Tribunal—the second review level

If you disagree with the reconsideration decision, you can appeal to the Employment and Assistance Appeal Tribunal. Your completed Notice of Appeal form must be delivered to the Tribunal within 7 business days of when you receive the reconsideration decision.

Not all reconsideration decisions can be appealed. If you are not sure if you can appeal a reconsideration decision, complete a Notice of Appeal form and send it to the Tribunal. The Tribunal will tell you if you can appeal. The Tribunal website has more on how to appeal.

You can ask the Tribunal to hold your hearing in person, by phone, or in writing. Further, you have the right for a lawyer, friend, witness or other person to come to the hearing with you.

What is the Tribunal?

The Employment and Assistance Appeal Tribunal is an independent body that hears appeals of Ministry reconsideration decisions. The Tribunal has a Chair, 2 Vice-Chairs, support staff, and several members located throughout BC. The Chair appoints a panel of up to 3 members to hear each appeal. For more information on the Tribunal and on how to appeal, check its website.

When does the Tribunal hear, or deal with, an appeal?

The Tribunal panel must hear an appeal within 15 business days after it receives a completed Notice of Appeal, unless the Tribunal Chair, the person appealing, and the Ministry agree to a later date.

When will I be notified about my hearing?

You will get notice of the date, time, and place of the hearing at least 2 business days before the hearing. The Tribunal will send you an appeal record with a copy of all the information the Ministry decision-maker considered in making the reconsideration decision. You and the Ministry representative get the same material.

What if you want a later date?

If you cannot make it to your hearing, or you need more time to gather evidence, you can ask to adjourn your hearing. You must complete the Appeal Adjournment Request form, get the ministry’s consent, and return the form to the Tribunal. The Tribunal Chair’s consent to the adjournment is also required.

What happens at the appeal hearing?

Both you and a ministry representative attend the hearing in person or by phone. You can ask for a written hearing. Then you will receive a letter with the date of the hearing and the process involved.

You present your case at the hearing. You can do this yourself or have someone help you. Check with PovNet to find an advocate. You can’t present new evidence at the hearing, but you can explain the evidence already on file and give evidence to support the information used in the Reconsideration. And you can question the ministry.

The ministry presents its case at the hearing. As part of this, it can question you.

How does the Tribunal decide?

The Tribunal panel first hears all the evidence. Then, it decides if the decision you are appealing was reasonably supported by the evidence, and if the Ministry reasonably applied the law (also called legislation) to the facts.

When will you get the Tribunal decision?

The Tribunal panel normally gives its decision to the Tribunal within 5 business days after a hearing.

3. Ask for judicial review by the BC Supreme Court—the third review level

If you are still not satisfied with the Tribunal’s decision, you can ask the BC Supreme Court to review it, though you’ll likely need a lawyer for this. There are deadlines for judicial review, so it’s important to act quickly. The Tribunal website has more on this.

If you have an advocate, ask them about this option. The Community Legal Assistance Society and the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre have lawyers to help with judicial review of some Tribunal decisions.

Other options in cases of problem conduct or interaction with the Tribunal or unfairness

The Tribunal website explains that if you are not satisfied with a Tribunal decision, your other options, besides asking for judicial review, are to complain to the:

  • Tribunal Chair about the conduct of an appeal or any interaction with the Tribunal
  • Ombudsperson if you think you were treated unfairly

Where can you get more information and help?

  • Legal Services Society (LSS): LSS has a booklet called “How to Apply for Welfare” with information about eligibility for social assistance (including PPMB and PWD benefits and supplements).
  • Disability Alliance BC: Formerly the BC Coalition of People with Disabilities. The Alliance website has many helpful guides on applying for the PPMB and PWD designation, and on appealing decisions. Click on “Library” and on “Money and Income Supports”. You can also ask them to mail you their guides—call 604.872.1278 in the lower mainland or 1.800.663.1278 elsewhere in BC.
  • Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction: For more information about the Ministry, phone or visit the nearest Ministry office and speak with an Employment and Assistance Worker. For the phone numbers and addresses, call Enquiry BC at 604.660.2421 in the lower mainland, 250.387.6121 in Victoria, and 1.800.663.7867 elsewhere in BC. Or check the Ministry website.
  • Employment and Assistance Appeal Tribunal: For information on the Tribunal—including its practices and procedures, and videos of what a hearing looks like—see its website or call 1.866.557.0035.

[updated January 2018]

The above was last reviewed for accuracy and edited by John Blois.

© Copyright 2018, Canadian Bar Association British Columbia Branch. Dial-A-Law is a registered trademark owned by Canadian Bar Association British Columbia Branch, a non-profit membership corporation.

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