Social Benefits Tribunal: A Precedent Setting Case

PooranLaw recently had the privilege of working on a precedent-setting case involving Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) benefits*.

The Facts:

In this case, two adults, brothers, with dual citizenship (Canadian/US) were receiving ODSP as well as Economic Impact Payments (EIPs). EIPs are payments introduced in the United States as an advance on tax credits, to relieve the financial hardship of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In light of their reporting obligations, our clients informed ODSP of these additional payments once received. ODSP, however, took the position that since the legislation did not explicitly exempt these novel payments, they should be considered chargeable income. As a result, ODSP subtracted the amount of the EIPs from the recipients’ benefit cheques dollar for dollar, leaving them with little to no ODSP benefits in the relevant months.

PooranLaw argued that the financial assistance provided by the EIPs should be compared to Canadian federal refundable tax credits, which are fully exempt as income for ODSP purposes, or either the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (“CERB”) or the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (“CESB”), which are, at a minimum, partially exempt for ODSP recipients, or fully exempt if the recipient was a full-time student.

The Decision

PooranLaw appealed ODSP’s decisions to the Social Benefits Tribunal (“SBT”). The SBT agreed with our arguments.

The SBT member wrote that this was a “highly unusual case,” since most ODSP recipients do not have dual citizenship, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the gaps in our current legislation.  Applying a narrow interpretation of the legislation in such circumstances would lead to a finding that the Appellants were financially ineligible for ODSP benefits.

The SBT ordered the local ODSP office to reverse all overpayments and reimburse the appellants for deductions already made to their benefit cheques over the past year leading up to the hearings, stating:

“The courts have, for years now, made it abundantly clear that when it comes to interpreting social assistance remedial legislation, a broad and liberal approach is necessary and that any ambiguity should be resolved in favour of the applicant seeking benefits under the legislation”.

PooranLaw is pleased with the SBT’s decision and will continue to advocate to ensure that remedial legislation for social benefits is resolved in favour of the recipient. In future, this case will be helpful in interpreting the application of “novel” income payments that are not contemplated explicitly by the legislation.

*The Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) is a social assistance program for low-income Ontario residents over the age of 18 who have a disability. The program helps to offset the costs of people’s basic needs and shelter. It also provides other benefits like health and dental coverage. The amount that a recipient of ODSP receives each month is calculated based on several factors, including but not limited to, their living arrangements and any additional income they may receive from other sources. The calculation parameters for additional income, however, are not always clear.

Note: This article provides general information only and does not constitute, and should not be relied upon as, legal advice or opinion. PooranLaw Professional Corporation holds the copyright to this article and the article and its contents may not be copied or reproduced in any form, in whole or in part, without the express permission of PooranLaw Professional Corporation.