There are many changes being made by the Ontario Government regarding how a person can apply for social assistance, specifically, Ontario Works (Welfare).
Before, a person requiring assistance would either call or go to a welfare office. Information was taken and an appointment was set with a worker to complete a full application. If the person was denied assistance, then the right of appeal would be triggered. The person would file a Request for an Internal Review and subsequently an appeal to the Social Benefits Tribunal.
This process is being changed and will be different starting in October 2000. A “call centre” has been set up in the Belleville area (with a toll-free number). People applying for social assistance must call this number to apply. There will be a brief screening to determine if a person qualifies for assistance. If the person is “deemed” not to qualify, a Notice of Conclusion will be issued to the person, both orally and in writing.
If the person disagrees with this Notice of Conclusion, an objection, both oral and in writing, must be given. If the person does not object in writing, there is no subsequent right of appeal. It is very important to object in writing to preserve your right of appeal. If the decision is reversed, then an application will proceed with the local office. If the decision is not reversed when the written objection has been made, the application process moves to the second stage of the application. The objection will be reviewed and a decision will be made. If the decision is upheld, the objection will serve as the Internal Review and only then can the decision be appealed to the Social Benefits Tribunal.
All these changes have added many more steps to follow to apply for social assistance and to appeal any decisions reached. It is clear that these changes do not make this system friendly and do not make the process easier to deal with.
Most people are at a very vulnerable time in their lives when they are applying for assistance - the most fundamental necessities of life such as food and shelter are at risk. By complicating this process, surely many more families, including children, will fall through the cracks and suffer even more.
A Notice of Conclusion in itself is not appealable to the Social Benefits Tribunal. People may be told that legal clinics have no power to assist. However, given that it is a complicated process, getting help is critical to ensure that all steps have been followed in order to preserve your right of appeal.
Please call your community legal clinic if you have problems when applying for Social Assistance.
For residents living west of Holland and Fisher Avenues, please contact West End Legal Services at 596-1641.