Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Auditor Slams Delays, Arduous, Outdated Paperwork Process for Disability Appeals

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Auditor Slams Delays, Arduous, Outdated Paperwork Process for Disability Appeals

Article excerpt

Auditor: Benefits appeals too long, arduous


OTTAWA - Peter McClure was denied pension disability benefits on a non-medical technicality.

The 63-year-old Alberta man has terminal lung cancer -- he says he's lucky to still be alive -- and waited about two years for a decision on his appeal of the government's denial of his Canada Pension Plan disability benefits.

The appeals tribunal accidentally missed his request for a speedier hearing, a situation that prolonged McClure's time in the system, which auditor general Michael Ferguson said on Tuesday was "longer than necessary for a decision."

McClure is one of thousands of people with terminal illnesses or grave conditions who applied for CPP disability payments in recent years and found themselves waiting too long for benefits, or being snowed under by paperwork, or caught in a system where applicants could be twice denied benefits, only to find out later the denials were wrong.

While the audit found no documented cases of patients dying while awaiting benefits, it did find that time limits were often missed. Only seven per cent of dying people who sought disability payments got a decision on their application within the government's 48-hour guideline, while just over half of those with chronic conditions had their cases decided within the established 30-day window.

And the appeals body established to streamline the process was set up without a proper transition plan and enough resources, leaving it unable to deal with the volume of cases it inherited from the four bodies that had handled benefits appeals. As a result, the tribunal didn't meet expectations, allowing the 6,500 cases it inherited to swell to a backlog of 10,871 cases by December 2014.

The tribunal has said it expects to be through the backlog by the end of March.

The auditor also questioned how decisions were made and how average wait times for a decision rocketed up to 884 days.

"It gives validation to, I would say, hundreds if not thousands of Canadians who quietly have struggled and continue to struggle with this very complex system," said Michael Prince, a public policy professor at the University of Victoria who has been a critic of how the previous government set up the tribunal.

Many of the findings in Ferguson's report come as little news to those in the system who have had their concerns documented extensively by The Canadian Press, including McClure.

In his latest twice-annual assessment of various federal government departments, agencies and programs, Ferguson's most eyebrow-raising findings came from his examination of CPP disability benefits, but he found shortcomings in other areas:

-- An audit of the government's central IT department, known as Shared Services Canada, found the four-year-old agency couldn't show whether it was saving the government any money, nor whether systems and data were secure. …

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