People wait for the Service Canada centre to open on April 2, 2014 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Social Security Tribunal turns to people in the system to help cut wait times for benefits

A four-year overhaul has already addressed glaring problems with a tribunal process, official says

The body that Canadians turn to with disputes over federal benefits wants to learn from people who are most impacted by the system, with an eye to further reducing wait times and streamlining an appeals process that has already gone through major reforms.

“What’s blindingly obvious and simple is once you start thinking about the people who use the system, that becomes the touchstone for just about everything that you do,” Paul Aterman, chair of the Social Security Tribunal, said in an interview with The Canadian Press this week.

Aterman said a four-year overhaul has already addressed glaring problems with a tribunal process that wasn’t designed with the user at heart.

He said that has included changing how it manages cases and interprets regulations to slash what could be years-long wait times for decisions.

Next week, the tribunal is turning to stakeholders to unearth the less overt issues that still need to be addressed.

The idea is to simplify things for people appealing government decisions about old age security, Canada Pension Plan payments, and employment insurance benefits, who Aterman noted often includes people who could have trouble navigating an opaque bureaucracy.

“A lot of those people don’t have post-secondary education, some of them don’t have secondary education. They’re amongst the more marginalized people in the country,” Aterman said.

“On the other hand, we’re dealing with ’60s and ’70s-era social welfare legislation where there’s no reward for any politician to modernize that stuff. It’s a thankless task,” he added a short while later. “So that’s what we’re stuck with: We’re stuck with archaic legislation, and a population who is using the system who doesn’t understand what’s happening to them.”

The previous Conservative government set up the tribunal in 2013 to replace four separate bodies and many of its problems stemmed from it being understaffed and missing a transition plan.

Just over four years ago, a critical auditor general’s report found average wait times for decisions jumped from 44 days to more than 200 and, in the worst case, 884 days for decisions on CPP disability benefits.

Regulations for the body were written behind closed doors and without much input from stakeholders, who for years questioned why the federal government couldn’t share documents with the tribunal that were needed for appeals. Forcing people to get them anew caused delays.

There were also concerns about requirements that some appellants hire lawyers to represent them. Highly legalized decisions were hard to understand.

The tribunal jettisoned the requirement for a lawyer. A plain-language expert helped the tribunal make decisions easier to read, cutting the length of decisions by 25 per cent. Last fall, the tribunal started having staff proactively call appellants to walk them through the process.

The tribunal also decided to interpret its regulations in a way let them get the documents needed for appeals from Employment and Social Development Canada. The decision cut wait times to schedule hearings.

The tribunal wants to do more. Over the next year, it plans to reduce the time for a decision on things like CPP and old age security from 150 days to 70, and on employment insurance from 90 to 45 days.

Aterman said there’s still room to cut wait times further.

“But the idea is not speed at all cost,” he said. “We want to provide a quality justice system, so we are going to bump up against a point at which the returns simply diminish.”

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Senior girls Eckville Aces stampede to playoff win

The senior girls Aces defeated the Alix Mustangs 80-28 at Eckville Jr/Sr High School on Feb. 26

11-year-old Sylvan Lake burn survivor using his story to inspire others

Kaden Howard was recently named the 2020 Champion Child for the Stollery in Edmonton

Sylvan Lake woman injured during ambulance transport

Judy Gallagher, 68, was injured after the stretcher she was strapped to tipped during transportation

Changes made to Eckville’s dry camping policy

There will now be a $10 per night fee to dry camp during events such as the rodeo and jamborees

Sylvan Lakers heading to North American Indigenous Games

A coach and four players will be taking the trip to Halifax, N.S. in July to compete in lacrosse

B.C. residents in Wet’suwet’en territory have right to police presence: Public Safety Minister

Nevertheless, Bill Blair said officials remain ‘very anxious’ for the barricades to come down

Explicit Greta sticker linked to Alberta company draws outrage

The sticker includes the logo of Red Deer-based X-Site Energy Services

Share Now, formerly Car2Go, leaves Canada with valuable data in changing market: expert

Vancouver was its largest market in North America, with more than 300,000 customers

What’s happening: Coronavirus forges on, as world hunts solutions

Japan closes all elementary, middle and high schools until spring holidays in late March

RCMP to stop providing security for Prince Harry and Meghan

Public safety minister says RCMP has been helping UK police intermittently since November

Canada’s 13th coronavirus case confirmed as husband of 12th patient

More than 81,000 cases of COVID-19 have occurred since the virus emerged in China

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs to meet today with federal and B.C. governments

Nationwide rail and road blockades have been popping up for weeks

Budget day: Alberta government planning to balance books, boost employment

It’s the second budget by Premier Jason Kenney’s UCP government

Chinatowns across Canada report drop in business due to new coronavirus fears

Around the world, about 81,000 people have become ill with the virus

Most Read