Retired public servant's divorce held up over pension errors
'It's much more difficult to deal with the government than it was settle things with my ex-husband'
Ottawa resident Laura Prevost knows divorce can get ugly, but she never imagined it would be the federal government making her pull her hair out — not her former partner.
Pension records riddled with errors are turning her breakup into a never-ending nightmare, she said.
'It has just become so out of control that it's much more difficult to deal with the government than it was settle things with my ex-husband," she said.
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The mother of two daughters can't finalize her divorce because for more than a year, the government hasn't been able to tell her the correct amount of her pension.
"It's extremely unsettling," Prevost said. "The service being provided just isn't acceptable. Going through a divorce is hard for us and for the kids, too. Everyone would like to have it finalized and not have to talk about it anymore."
Her lawyer, Eric Letts, obtained internal emails about her case that show the government discovered errors in her file, but kept her in the dark.
"After looking through her records, it was apparent that their standard of record-keeping was below my son's record-keeping for his lemonade stand," Letts said.
Prevost retired from a long Canada Revenue Agency career in February 2014. A year and a half later, Prevost and her husband amicably ended their 24-year marriage.
False information had been used to negotiate a divorce settlement.- Laura Prevost, retired public servant
They both received a pension benefits report to help divide their assets, and it was used to negotiate their separation agreement. But just weeks after they signed their divorce papers, Prevost found out on April 14, 2016, that her pension payments were being reduced.
"I was extremely shocked," she said.
"It had a huge effect on my life because it meant that false information had been used to negotiate a divorce settlement."
After many phone calls to the pension centre, Prevost received a letter in the mail on May 6 explaining the government made a miscalculation.
"During the calculation phase of your benefit, your service credit was overstated," wrote Paryse Ouellette of the Government of Canada Pension Centre.
Prevost said her problems went from bad to worse. She requested a second pension benefits report for her divorce only to find out it was wrong again. Instead of 19 pensionable years during her marriage, the new report stated she had only 16 years of pensionable years — $20,000 less in pensionable earnings.
"The numbers were just way off base," Prevost said. "They also say they don't have all of my employment records. It's very concerning. It's sort of unbelievable."
Emails show information held back
Letts said Prevost's experience is a cautionary tale to other public servants: check your pension records before you retire.
"There's no excuse for her records to be so wrong," said Letts. "It's not one mistake. It's a multitude of mistakes."
Letts obtained some of Prevost's files in which Public Services and Procurement Canada admits that Prevost was given "erroneous advice" when she was retiring.
On July 7, 2015, a pension centre employee wrote in an internal email: "Member signed a ... form and was never advised she could buy back for period of option."
It is best not to discuss any of this with the plan member at the moment. A complete review is required.- Simone Arsenault, Government of Canada Pension Centre
Jean-Philippe St-Onge to Public Services and Procurement Canada: "Please advise as to whether we should council [sic] member on the possibility of buying back this service or if we should finalize the service buyback as is."
Prevost said she was never notified about that problem. Another internal pension centre email from April 22, 2016, said it's possible that amounts paid to her spouse were incorrect.
"It is best not to discuss any of this with the plan member for the moment," wrote Simone Arsenault, an advisory officer with the Government of Canada Pension Centre. "A complete review is required."
'No overall trend'
Prevost said her trust is broken and she's worried there is no end in sight to her problem. She has requested a third pension report but still hasn't heard when she'll receive it.
A spokesman with the National Association of Federal Retirees says he's aware of human errors being made from time to time at the pension centre.
"But there is no overall trend or any great number of errors that we are aware of," said Andrew McGillivary, the association's director of communications.
CBC News has requested comment from Public Services and Procurement Canada and is waiting for a response.