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Appeal system needs massive overhaul

Posted on March 16, 2017 by Vauxhall Advance

The federal government agency set up in 2013 to streamline the appeals process regarding benefits payments continues to get complaints about long delays and red tape – much like the system it replaced.

The Liberal government is reviewing the design and operation of the social security tribunal and the review is expected to be completed by year’s end.

It’s clear that some repair work is needed for a system that continues to be plagued by red tape and lengthy delays – problems that dogged the agency right from the start. When the tribunal was created four years ago by the Conservative government, it inherited a backlog of more than 6,000 cases from the previous board. By late 2014, the backlog had grown to some 11,000 cases.

That’s because, in the move to streamline operations, the army of more than 1,000 part-time appeal referees was whittled down to a concise group of less than 70 appeal workers. Jason Kenney, the Employment and Social Development Minister at the time, explained the agency didn’t expect to inherit so many leftover cases from the old board – although one would think those numbers should have been known.

At any rate, while the backlog has been trimmed somewhat, the tribunal’s case inventory still showed more than 8,200 cases to be dealt with as of the end of 2016. The huge caseload has created a major burden for staff who are stressed out and overwhelmed by the volume of work, according to an outside review ordered three years ago.

Tribunal employees likely aren’t the only ones stressed out. A federal auditor’s report last year noted that the wait times for CPP disability decisions were an interminable 884 days on average – or almost two and a half years. It’s unfair to expect claimants to wait that long, not to mention putting them through the stress of having to battle the bureaucratic system.

In a story by the Canadian Press, Allison Schmidt, a Regina-based pension-disability case manager who regularly deals with the tribunal, said while wait times have been shortened, they’re still too long. “The process is way too challenging for an individual with a disability to manage,” Schmidt told the CP. “That’s what I think is a big flaw. The tribunal folks themselves are doing their very best with what they’ve got.”

That suggests the system needs an overhaul – and a major one – because clearly it’s not working properly, either for the workers within the system or for those seeking decisions regarding their benefits.

The review will likely show that, but then comes the work to craft a new system, and who knows how long that will take.

In the meantime, that means more waiting for benefits claimants.

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