British Columbia

B.C. Recovery Benefit applicants frustrated by unexpected paperwork, tight deadlines, jammed phone lines

Dozens of British Columbians who successfully submitted their application for the B.C. Recovery Benefit over the last few days say they're stressed and frustrated to learn there are yet more steps to take before they can expect to receive the relief.

Finance minister says 700,000 British Columbians will receive benefit by Christmas

Dozens of people who have tried to apply for the B.C. Recovery Benefit say they've come away frustrated, either by a temperamental website, busy phone lines or unexpected paperwork. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Dozens of British Columbians who successfully submitted their application for the B.C. Recovery Benefit over the last few days say they're stressed and frustrated to learn there are yet more steps to take before they can expect to receive the relief.

A number of applicants who got through online or by phone since applications opened on Friday have received an email asking them to submit four more documents to prove their identity: a copy of their full 2019 tax return notice of assessment, their personal ID and two bills — such as a phone or utility bill.

The email to applicants said the paperwork needs to make it back to the provincial government within 30 days or the benefit application will be denied.

"The stress has been just horrible," said applicant Linda Harris, who lives on a pension in Sechelt, B.C. "Why do they want to put that kind of [deadline] stress on people?"

Harris, who is retired and doesn't own a printer, said it will take days to compile her records and have photocopies made. Her tax return assessment, alone, will take 10 days to come from the Canada Revenue Agency.

It means the B.C. benefit certainly won't reach her before Christmas.

"My bank account was down to $11 on Thursday, so I was really pumped to get this $500 to help," said Harris, 64, who separated from her husband in January and moved into her own home in March.

"All of this conflict around something that should be simple has really put me over the edge with COVID. I've had a horrible year ... I just feel kicked down now."

Linda Harris, 64, applied for the B.C. Recovery Benefit after applications opened on Dec. 18, but says the bureaucratic process is adding to her stress. (CBC)

Through the benefit, families with incomes under $125,000 are eligible to receive $1,000 and families earning up to $175,000 qualify for a reduced amount. Single-parent families also qualify for these benefit amounts.

Single people earning less than $62,500 qualify for a $500 payment and individuals earning up to $87,500 qualify for a reduced amount.

The province says approximately 3.7 million residents of B.C. are eligible for the benefit.

Finance Minister Selina Robinson says that some hiccups are to be expected with rolling out a program of that size. Most applications are processed right away.

"If [the application] doesn't match up with numbers we have then it gets diverted and staff have to verify it," explained Robinson on Tuesday. "We do need to cross reference and make sure the people who are eligible are in fact making the application."

She says more than 700,000 British Columbians will receive the benefit by Christmas. Anyone who is eligible can apply before June 30, 2021.

Meanwhile, some people haven't been able to even start an application. The online portal for the benefit crashed throughout the morning after it launched last Friday, as thousands of people tried to apply at once. Some people — including Harris — got booted out of their application form partway through and couldn't get back in for hours.

On Monday, the phone lines opened. Many callers were met with either complete silence, an endless busy signal or a maddening, sing-song voice when they tried to dial in.

"The customer you have dialled is currently unavailable," the automated answering service repeated through the morning. "Please try again later."

Merlin Blackwell, the mayor of Clearwater, B.C., said he wasn't going to bother attempting an application.

"I didn't even try ... sold my company last year for health reasons, so I got a cash-out on my taxes for 2019," Blackwell tweeted on Monday. "Making under [$40,000] a year with my part-time jobs, so it would help. I'll leave it to others to navigate this bureaucratic minefield of pain."

Harris will move forward with her application, but asked the ministry for leniency.

"Provide a reasonable request and don't put ... threats that people aren't going to receive the benefit if [the documentation] doesn't get received within 30 days," she said.

"It's not just for fun, to shop or whatever. This is needed money."

With files from Tina Lovgreen and Rhianna Schmunk

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