Calgary

These Calgarians received thousands in CERB payments — but don't qualify and never applied

At least two Calgarians who say they didn't apply or even qualify for the federal government's Canada Emergency Response Benefit program have discovered surprise payments into their bank accounts of up to $4,000. But they're getting the runaround when trying to return the payments, which the government insists couldn't have happened.

Federal government insists it's impossible for people to get COVID-19 emergency support without applying

Michael Dalla Costa says he received two CERB payments even though he works full time and didn’t apply for financial assistance. (Submitted by Michael Dalla Costa)

At least two Calgarians who say they didn't apply or even qualify for the federal government's Canada Emergency Response Benefit program have discovered surprise payments into their bank accounts of up to $4,000. But they're getting the runaround when trying to return the payments, which the government insists couldn't have happened.

Michael Dalla Costa said he was just checking online for a tax return when he noticed two payments of $2,000  —  from something described as "Federal Payment Canada"  —  had been deposited in his RBC account on April 21. He says he knew something was wrong.

"Obviously, I thought that's a CERB payment, but I've never applied for it."

The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) program was launched in early April by the federal government response to COVID-19. It offers $2,000 every four weeks to those who have lost their total source of income because of the pandemic, because they have lost their jobs, got sick, went into quarantine or had to stay home to care for dependents.

There have been reports from across the country of some people being accidentally issued double CERB payments, a glitch that the federal government attributed to the program being administered by two different departments.

But this is different. Dalla Costa still has a full-time job and says he never applied for the CERB program.

And he's not the only one.

Michael Dalla Costa supplied this screenshot of his bank account online, which shows the two $2,000 payments attributed to 'Federal Payment Canada.' Parts of the screenshot have been blurred to hide confidential information. (Submitted by Michael Dalla Costa)

Zoha Bajwa, works for the same telecommunications company but has a different bank, says she was paying her bills online on April 16 when she spotted an extra $2,000 in her TD account.

"I was really confused as to why I have all this extra money in my account," said Bajwa, who also lives in Calgary.

A little digging and the pair say they discovered they received the CERB payments by mistake.

Zoha says she's since talked to a few other people in Toronto and B.C. who have also received CERB funds without applying for them.

"So I know that is happening to people that don't need it but I don't know what the procedure is to reversing that, or fixing the issue."

CBC News reached out to their employer, but the company said it had nothing to do with the payments.

Payments impossible, government says

A spokesperson for Employment and Social Development Canada told CBC News it is impossible for CERB benefits to have been issued unless someone applied for them.

"An individual cannot receive a CERB payment without having submitted an application," the ESDC statement reads.

"As two organizations are administering the CERB independently, there may be situations where clients mistakenly applied for the benefit through both streams, which would result in a double payment. For example, millions of workers who applied for EI benefits were processed for the CERB and received a payment through Service Canada. If they were not aware that the payment was coming, they may have applied through CRA in error and thereby received a double payment – one from each organization."

The government says it is working to resolve that issue.

But the spokesperson couldn't provide any answers for why benefits would have been issued in Bajwa or Dalla Costa's situations. 

Frustration trying to return funds

Bajwa says she did get sick and was off work for two weeks in March. But she says she didn't have COVID-19 and her employer continued to pay her:  she never applied for any financial help from the provincial or federal governments.

She says she has been trying to reach someone on the CERB hotline to ask how to return the money but so far hasn't been able to get through because she says she gets put on hold for so long that she eventually hangs up. 

For now, she's put the cash aside until the government tells her what to do with it. 

But she says she'd rather see that money go to someone who is struggling and deserves it.

"There's a lot of people that have been laid off and they probably need the money more than I do to pay their bills," said Bajwa.

Bounced between bank and government

Dalla Costa says when he called the CERB hotline, staff told him they were not aware of the issue and to call his bank to see whether the money could be reversed.

When Dalla Costa called his bank, RBC told him it couldn't reverse the payments and to call the federal government.

Dalla Costa says the bank employee also told him he was the second person to call about the problem that day.

A spokesperson for RBC told CBC News that Dalla Costa's case appears to have been "an isolated incident."

It's not clear exactly how many people have received the CERB payment in similar situations.

As for the government's response, Dalla Costa says he finds it disturbing that the government is not even aware there is a problem.

"If their response is it can never happen, then obviously who in the population is keeping the money and not telling them? Why don't they know where this money is going?"

He now fears someone's stolen his SIN

Dalla Costa says he's most concerned about how the $4,000 ended up in his bank account in the first place.

"There must be something happening behind the scenes because I would assume this is all tied to my social insurance number, which makes me now worry how maybe someone's using my social insurance number," he said.

"That's kind of concerning, to be quite honest."

Dalla Costa says he ended up mailing the government a cheque to repay the CERB payments a couple of days ago.

Bajwa questions how to return money

Bajwa is less concerned about how she ended up with the money because she says with so many applications being processed, there are bound to be errors.

She says she doesn't want to send a cheque in the mail unless she speaks to someone first because she worries that, with COVID-19, mail delivery may unexpectedly get disrupted.

This particular issue is not listed as a potential problem under the federal government's website, but it does offer solutions to those who have received a CERB payment they are not entitled to because someone applied twice — once through EI and once through the CERB program. 

"While there will not be any penalty for Canadians if you have received a payment in error, you will have to repay the CERB benefits for which you are not entitled and will receive a letter from the CRA providing you with further information about the repayment process," the website states.

The government suggests the recipient either return the original CERB payment cheque by mail or send a personal cheque by mail for the amount owing to the "Receiver General for Canada" indicating it is a "repayment of CERB" and including the individual's social insurance number or temporary tax number.

The CRA warns people not to send cash in the mail.

Additionally, CRA says it has now implemented a validation check at the application stage. If the applicant has already been approved for benefits with EI/Service Canada, they will be redirected to continue through the EI stream. They will not be able to continue further with the CRA-CERB application.

After CBC News reached out on multiple occasions, the federal government said it would look into the payments to Dalla Costa and Bajwa.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Colleen Underwood has been a reporter/editor with CBC news for more than 10 years filing stories from across southern Alberta for radio, television and online. Follow her on Twitter @cbccolleen.

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