Script 288 gives information only, not legal advice. If you have a legal problem or need legal advice, you should speak to a lawyer. For the name of a lawyer to consult, call Lawyer Referral at 604.687.3221 in the lower mainland or 1.800.663.1919 elsewhere in British Columbia.
What social assistance does the BC Ministry of Social Development 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 at www.hsd.gov.bc.ca/bcea.htm.
What laws deal with social assistance, reconsiderations, and appeals?
Two laws govern BC’s social assistance programs:
- The Employment and Assistance Act and Regulation deal with income assistance, benefits for Persons With Persistent Multiple Barriers to employment (PPMB), hardship assistance, and supplements.
- The Employment and Assistance for Persons With Disabilities Act and Regulation deal with income assistance, disability assistance, hardship assistance, and supplements for people 18 and over who are designated as Persons with Disabilities (PWD).
Both laws are available at www.bclaws.ca.
What are your reconsideration and appeal rights?
You can ask 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. If you disagree with the reconsideration decision, you can appeal it to the Employment and Assistance Appeal Tribunal – in some cases. Finally, if you disagree with an appeal decision, you can ask for judicial review by the BC Supreme Court – but only in very limited cases. So there are 3 levels of review for Ministry decisions on social assistance or welfare.
Three review levels for Ministry decisions
- Reconsideration by the Ministry
- Appeal of Ministry decisions to the Employment and Assistance Appeal Tribunal (the Tribunal)
- Judicial review of Tribunal decisions by the BC Supreme Court
1. 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 of it. The Ministry will give you a package with a Request for Reconsideration form to complete. It’s a good idea to get some 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 at www.hsd.gov.bc.ca/publicat/bcea/appeal.htm.
How long do you have to submit the reconsideration form?
You have to 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 is made. If you need more time to collect documents, ask for it 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 reduce or cut off your benefits or a supplement, ask the Ministry for a repayable supplement while you are waiting for the result. You have 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. You must send the Tribunal a completed Notice of Appeal form within 7 business days of receiving 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 this at www.gov.bc.ca/eaat/popt/basis_for_appeal.htm.
You can ask the Tribunal to hold your hearing in person, by phone, or in writing. You have the right for an advocate, friend, or other representative to attend 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 at www.gov.bc.ca/eaat.
When does the Tribunal hear, or deal with, an appeal?
The Tribunal panel must hear your appeal within 15 business days after it receives your completed Notice of Appeal, unless the Tribunal Chair, you, and the Ministry agree to a later date.
You will get notice of the date, time, and place of the hearing at least 2 business days before the hearing date. The Tribunal will send you a copy of all the information the Ministry decision-maker considered in making the reconsideration decision (called the appeal record). You and the Ministry representative get the same material.
What happens at the appeal hearing?
Most hearings are oral and held in person or by phone. You can ask for a written hearing. Both you and a Ministry representative attend the appeal hearing.
You present your side of the case at the hearing. You can do this yourself or have someone help you. Ask at the local Employment and Income Assistance Office, or call the Tribunal, for information about local advocates who can help. Also check with PovNet about an advocate (their contact information is at the end of this script). You cannot present new evidence at the hearing. But you can explain the evidence already on file or provide evidence to support the case you submitted with your Request for Reconsideration. You might also choose to call witnesses and make legal arguments.
The Ministry also gets an opportunity to present its case and call witnesses. You can question the Ministry witnesses, and the Ministry can question your witnesses.
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. The Tribunal then has 5 business days to send the decision to you.
3. Judicial review by the BC Supreme Court – the third review level
If you are still not satisfied with the Tribunal decision, you can ask the BC Supreme Court to review it, but you’ll need a lawyer for this. This level of review is rare. There are deadlines for judicial review, so it’s important to act quickly. The Tribunal website has more on this at www.gov.bc.ca/eaat/popt/redress.htm
If you have an advocate, ask them about this option. The Community Legal Assistance Society (www.clasbc.net) and the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre (www.bcpiac.com) have lawyers who can help with judicial review of some Tribunal decisions.
Where can you get more information and help?
- Community advocates: Many places in BC have community advocates who provide free help with welfare problems, including reconsiderations and appeals. PovNet (www.povnet.org) is a website with contact information for advocates across BC. To find an advocate near you, go to www.povnet.org/find-an-advocate/bc.
- Legal Services Society (LSS): LSS has a booklet called “Your Welfare Rights: A Guide to BC Employment and Assistance” with information about eligibility for social assistance (including PPMB and PWD benefits and supplements). The booklet is on their website at www.legalaid.bc.ca. Click “Our publications”, and then under “I want to find a publication by subject,” click “Pensions, benefits, & welfare”. Finally, click on “Your Welfare Rights”.
- BC Coalition of People with Disabilities: The Coalition’s website (www.bccpd.bc.ca) has many helpful guides on applying for the PPMB and PWD designation, and on appealing decisions. Click on “Library” and then on “Money and Income Supports”. You can also ask them to mail you their publications – call 604.872.1278 in the lower mainland or 1.800.663.1278 elsewhere in BC.
- Ministry of Social Development: 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 at www.hsd.gov.bc.ca/bcea.htm.
- Employment and Assistance Appeal Tribunal: For more information about the Tribunal – including its practices and procedures, and videos of what a hearing looks like – visit its website at www.gov.bc.ca/eaat or call 1.866.557.0035.
[updated February 2013]
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