KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal has ruled that Community Services cannot refuse to pay a welfare recipient for suitable housing just because the rent exceeds the shelter allowance.
The person central to the case, identified only as G. in the decision, suffers from severe chemical sensitivities. G could not find an apartment that accommodated these sensitivities within her approved shelter allowance of $535 per month, the maximum amount allocated to single individuals who live with disabilities.
After finding a suitable apartment, G. requested that her shelter allowance increase to $800 per month, which her caseworker denied.
That decision worked its way through the Assistance Appeal Board, a judicial review, and now the unanimous decision in favour of G. by the three judges on the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal.
“The decision covers everything to do with basic needs. The judges said that the department can override these regulatory limits to what it can provide when a person’s health or safety is in jeopardy. So it is much broader than the facts of this particular case,” says Claire McNeil, the Dalhousie Legal Aid lawyer who argued the case on behalf of G.
“It’s a big step in the right direction,” McNeil says.
This is the second time the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal ruled against Community Services in its interpretation of the regulations within the last year. In November 2017 the court decided that it is unjust to deprive an entire family of social assistance benefits just because the so called head of that family did something wrong. McNeil was one of the lawyers there as well.
However, in that case the policy manual has not yet been changed to reflect the Court’s decision, says McNeil, and that is reason for concern.
“You depend on the department to implement such a change. All their workers province-wide go to the policy manual to decide what to do. In that manual it still says that if one person does something wrong the entire family is punished,” McNeil says.
“Community Services flouts the law, all the time,” says Fiona Traynor, a community legal worker with Dalhousie Legal Aid. “What the decision shows is that Community Services contravenes the actual laws that govern the administration of the Income Assistance program.”
“Not only are they denying people what has been found to be fair at the Appeal Board level, they pay lawyers to battle people who live in deep poverty and with serious disabilities at all levels. How much of our tax money do you think that costs,” Traynor wonders.
All this continues to be a source of great frustration, says Traynor, who is one of the spokespersons for the Community Agenda for Social Assistance Reform (CASAR), a group that has been asking for meaningful input in the secretive welfare transformation project that is reshaping how Community Services delivers income assistance. The group represents over 30 anti-poverty groups province-wide.
“CASAR has called on the government of Nova Scotia and Community Services to hold a substantive consultation on the changes that need to be made. CASAR believes that the current transformation is not responsive to the needs of people on Income Assistance, not inclusive and not transparent,” Traynor says.
“The current Court of Appeal decision illustrates once again that they aren’t listening. That has to change.”
See also: Community Services saves millions on social assistance payments
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As someone who has seen DCS caseworkers flouting the laws as well as their own policies, it is painfully obvious that most caseworkers look for weasel ways to deny legitimate people help. Especially people who they know can never get back into the workplace due to a long term/permanent disability. They even go as far as ignoring doctor letters and forms for very important special needs and treat the client like dirt and blight on the community and are demeaning and condescending to them. They know these people who are vulnerable will most time not fight back. They have gone so far at least in the Annapolis-Digby area to denied people with long term severe mental disabilities the right to have a support person present in meetings only so there is no witnesses to the nasty way they treat these ones. It is disgusting and truly discrimination of the lowest kind. What next … tripping people with a physical disability? If this is the transformation they have talked about for the last few years they need to go back to drawing board. If the casework or supervisor even thinks you complained about them again they look for ways to punish these poor vulnerable people. I really don’t know how these people sleep at night. If they have lost sight of the humanity then thy should be fired or retire. It is time for DCS to be revamped and it is time that doctors are listened to and not ignored any longer. Shame on Nova Scotia DCS and shame on the bureaucrats who enable their bad behavior!
The most vulnerable sector of our population is mentally and/or physically disabled adults between the ages of 18 and 65, unable to work and left to survive on rent supplements which have been frozen for years. How politicians of all stripes cannot find this appalling is bewildering. The stigma that exists that social assistance recipients are lazy and should just get a job is sad. The fact is large numbers cannot work due to severe disabilities. I am thankful that I can work, not resentful to those that cannot. How is it justifiable to freeze rental supports for years, to persons with no other income earning ability? Where are they supposed to find the additional money? Why is this not legally challenged as a form of abuse on the disabled? It is well past time to provide a basic income to individuals who are deemed unemployable due to severe illness. We seem to provide support subsidies for families with children, as well as to persons over 65. However, if you are between 18 and 65, with a debilitating illness it is a different scenario. The federal government has a responsibility as well, to which they fall far short in fulfilling. We often hear how bad our seniors are treated. The OAS and GIS at age 65 combined is $1487.85. Compare that to a maximum of around $850. ( 535. of this for rent inclusive ) to someone maybe suffering from MS, or severe anxiety, or severe phobia OCD, etc. Sadly, many of these folks can’t wait to reach age 65. Sadly, I think we need more legal challenges, as many of our politicians simply don’t seem to care.
“policy manual has not yet been changed to reflect the Court’s decision” Well, of course it hasn’t! No way do they want any of us to know of any extra benefits to which we may be entitled. The job of caseworkers is not to find as much money for us as possible to add to our cheques or to find ways to help us with things such as rent, special needs, furniture, etc. Their job is to make sure we get as little money as possible and we are NEVER told of anything extra. We find out about that by accident or by the few caseworkers at DCS who are compassionate.