As part of its Poverty Reduction Strategy, the provincial government set up the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario. Last month, the Commission released its second Discussion Paper, Approaches to Reform, which looks at "different approaches to improving some of the key areas of the social assistance system."
The Commission has asked for input by March 16 to help them decide on the recommendations they will make to the government in June.
The government has said that one of its goals is to change the rules so that they are easier for people to understand and easier for social assistance workers to apply.
Currently, many of the rules about getting assistance from Ontario Works (OW) or the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) are complicated. And complicated rules can often lead to disputes about entitlement.
Sometimes people whose assistance is refused, reduced, or cut off do not know that they may have a right to appeal the decision to the Social Benefits Tribunal (SBT).
How the appeal process works now
Someone who is refused assistance can appeal only if they have completed an application. If they withdrew their application or did not finish it, they will not be able to appeal, but they still have the right to make a new application.
Before an appeal can be filed with the SBT, a written request for an internal review must be made to the office that made the decision. This will be the local OW office or, for ODSP, the local ODSP office or the Disability Adjudication Unit. An internal review means that a different person in the office that made the decision will review the decision and decide whether or not to change it.
Some decisions cannot be appealed. But even if a decision cannot be appealed, an internal review can be requested.
There are deadlines for requesting an internal review and for filing an appeal with the SBT. If it is after the deadline, it is possible to ask for an extension of time in an internal review request or an appeal, explaining the reason for missing the time limit.
Most community legal clinics in Ontario help people to appeal OW and ODSP decisions. Legal Aid Ontario's website has information about finding a community legal clinic.
Reforms could reduce the need for some appeals
The right to appeal a negative decision is an important element of the social assistance system and an appeal to the SBT can be an effective remedy for someone whose assistance has been refused, cut off, or reduced.
But rules that are easy to understand and apply could help people get the assistance they need faster and without an appeal hearing. A fair system should also give people enough money to meet the cost of living and provide the supports that are needed by people who can work.
The Social Assistance Review is an opportunity to say how you think the government should act to reduce poverty in Ontario and improve the system for people who need assistance.