AISH too hard to access, Alberta auditor general says

Some of Alberta’s most vulnerable citizens face too many roadblocks in getting benefits from the government, Alberta’s auditor general says.

Application process favours persistent people who are good at completing forms

Alberta Auditor General Merwan Saher says Alberta Human Services is unable to demonstrate that the AISH program is efficient. (CBC)

Some of Alberta's most vulnerable residents face too many roadblocks in getting government benefits, Alberta's auditor general says.

"The AISH application process favours people who are good at completing forms and are persistent," Merwan Saher said in his October report, released Monday.

"Assessing eligibility takes too long, and the department cannot be sure its staff's decisions are consistent."

AISH — Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped — provides $1 billion in benefits annually to more than 50,000 Albertans.

Delivered by the department of Human Services, AISH is administered by approximately 330 staff. The annual operating cost is $33 million.

Saher examined the department's ability to ensure the program is easily accessible, and if it applies clearly-defined criteria when making eligibility decisions.

"We expected the intake process to be simple and straightforward," the report said.

Instead Saher found that:

  • online resources for the application process are hard to find
  • the application form is onerous
  • pre-screening is inadequate
  • the process for triaging of applicants is inefficient.

Saher recommended Human Services set standards for how quickly applications are processed and improve procedures and guidelines to ensure staff apply policy in a consistent manner.

The report found that cases are decided by staff who have little training or guidance on how to apply standards. 

The auditor general also found inconsistencies in how the rules are applied. For instance, applicants who are working 30 hours a week have been denied coverage. Yet people who are already receiving AISH were allowed to work the same number of hours.

Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir said he will act on the report's recommendations. 

"We are absolutely committed to making sure that we have a more coherent, consistent, program application throughout the province and we make needed and necessary changes," he said. 

The auditor general's office undertook their review from February to August this year. Sabir said work was already  underway to improve the website which launched today.