The province will reimburse thousands of people up to $700 each after an ombudsperson investigation found that the government miscalculated their income assistance payments.
In a report released Tuesday, the B.C. Ombudsperson said that the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction had incorrectly denied earnings exemptions to more than 500 people a year since 2012.
In B.C., income assistance recipients are docked some assistance per month based on how much outside income they bring in.
However, most recipients qualify for an monthly earning exemption of between $400 and $700. An exemption of $600 is available for people with a dependent child and a $700 exemption is available for those with a dependent child with a condition that prevents the caretaker from working more than 30 hours a week or those who have “persistent multiple barriers to employment.”
All other recipients get a $400 exemption, except people who have “no dependent children, no fixed address, and in the Minister’s opinion, is not taking up permanent residence in the community in which the person submits an application for income assistance.”
However, under the province’s policy, the earning exemption is waived for the first month after someone applies for income assistance.
The investigation stemmed from a complaint by an income recipient assistant (dubbed Ms. Smith) who complained that she had been unfairly denied the earnings exemption in March 2016.
Smith, who had a serious medical condition that made her eligible for a $700 exemption, was able to work from time-to-time, meaning she had to reapply for income assistance.
As a result, she was regularly denied the earning exemption.
Ombudsperson Jay Chalke found that the province acted wrongly by continuing to deny the earning exemption for the first month to all applicants, despite having manually made the exemption for Smith once her complaint was received.
Chalke said that the ministry “acted unjustly and oppressively” in making recipients who were denied the exemption apply to have the ministry reconsider.
The ministry has been told to reimburse all income assistance recipients who missed out on the earning exemption since October 2012 by October of this year.