Thousands of B.C. residents converged on government offices on Wednesday morning to pick up their social assistance cheques, which can't be delivered by mail because of the Canada Post labour dispute.

About 80 per cent of those on income assistance receive their payments via direct deposit and will not be affected. However, about 18,000 income-assistance recipients who receive cheques in the mail will have to pick them up at either a Service B.C. or office of the Ministry of Social Development.

The Deputy Minister Mark Seiben says plans are in place to extend offices hours and add extra staff and security.

Clients must bring valid B.C. identification with them in order to claim their cheque, the government advises.

"If you are unable to pick up your own cheques, you can send a family member or friend with your identification and a letter signed by you authorizing pick up to the office. The office will ensure id and signature match and then issue the cheque," the ministry is advising.

There were already line-ups stretching down the block when two offices on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside opened at 7:30 a.m. PT, but staff reported those in the lines were behaving orderly and patiently awaiting their cheques.

Not all cheques held for pick-up

Not everyone entitled to provincial benefits will be able to pick up a cheque on Wednesday. The following cheques will be mailed when postal service resumes:

  • Rent cheques to landlords 
  • Child in Home of Relative (CIHR) child cheques.
  • Third-party administered cheques.
  • Utilities cheques.
  • Other vendor cheques.

If recipients normally have their rent paid direct to their landlord or their utility bill is paid direct to the company, the cheque will be sent to them when postal service resumes.

However people in those programs who are in immediate need will be issued a cheque on the spot at their local Service B.C. office, said Seiben.

"If there is a family who's in receipt of a Child in Home of Relative benefit that absolutely requires it as of Wednesday or the next day, Thursday, then we invite them to come into our offices and we'll issue a cheque on the spot," he said.

Otherwise people who aren't in urgent need of assistance with other matters are being asked to wait until Friday for service.

Recipients nervous about disruption

Doreen Gee, 60, is on a B.C. Disability Pension, and she receives a rent subsidy from the Vancouver Island Health Authority.

She will be able to pick up her B.C. disability cheque in person, but her rent cheque will be delivered by her caseworker. Nevertheless, Gee is nervous about what will happen today.

"The stress of this, you know, sometimes when you have to pick up a cheque you have to wait in a long line-up or you don't get in," she said.

The federal government has introduced back to work legislation that could end the postal lockout later this week, while the two sides remain in negotations.