Sask. man with cerebral palsy says government social worker suggested divorce to restore disability payments

A 56-year-old Saskatoon man who was cut off from his disability payments when his wife became eligible for a federal pension says a social worker suggested he get a divorce to restore his payments, something the ministry says is against its policy. 

Allen Hall, 56, lost provincial disability payments when wife turned 65

Allen Hall and his wife Marianne Hollman-Hall at home in Saskatoon. The two have been married for 23 years this month. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

A Saskatoon man, who lost his provincial disability payments when his wife became eligible for a federal pension and benefit, says a government social worker suggested he get a divorce to restore his payments — something the Saskatchewan Ministry of Social Services says is against policy. 

Allen Hall is appealing to Social Services Minister Paul Merriman to intervene in his case, saying he and his wife have fallen into a loophole that has left their household short around $800 per month. The minister declined to comment citing privacy reasons.

Hall and his wife Marianne are both in wheelchairs because they have cerebral palsy. 

He said his payments under the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disabilities (SAID) program were cut in September after his wife turned 65, when she switched to a national pension plan. 

But Hall, who is 56, will not be eligible for a pension for another nine years. He said he will be eligible for spousal payments through his wife's pension plan when he turns 60.

Hall says he believes fewer couples with disabilities get married because of complications with their benefits. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

"My disability is still the same. My age doesn't qualify me for anything under the federal system, so they're basically telling me for the next four years you have to live on the good graces of your wife," said Hall. 

Hall was receiving about $660 a month from the SAID program, while Marianne was receiving about $1,100 a month from SAID. They also received an allowance from the province for water and electricity bills.   

She [social worker] made a suggestion that I get a divorce just so I can stay on the SAID program.​- Allen Hall, Saskatoon resident

Hall said he was cut from the program in late September when Marianne turned 65 and began getting the Old Age Security pension and Guaranteed Income Supplement benefit.

Her total monthly payment through the pension is now about $240 less for the household. With Hall cut off too, they will not receive help from the province for power and water bills. Hall expects they will be about $800 shorter per month than when he was on SAID. 

"I'm expected to live with nothing, nothing, no money for myself, no money to pay the bills," he said.

On Sept. 1, 2017, the Ministry of Social Services stopped providing SAID payments for anyone who starts receiving payments through the Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement programs. 

SAID recipients have previously raised concerns about the change. In 2018, another Saskatoon couple said it would leave them with about $1,000 less per month. They feared it could leave them homeless and unable to pay their medical bills when they turn 65. 

Hall said the same policy has been unfairly applied to him long before he is old enough for federal pension payments. He said he won't be eligible for a spousal allowance through Marianne's programs for another four years. 

He said a social worker at the Ministry of Social Services suggested that the couple get a divorce so he could stay on the SAID program. 

"I am Roman Catholic and under the rules of our church, if you divorce, you can't even receive the holy sacrament. Once you break one of their sacraments, which marriage is … it's not an option," Hall said. 

The ministry said it is not its policy to advise clients on changes in marital status.

Hall believes situations like his are one reason people with disabilities do not marry as often — because of the "paperwork snafu."

He appealed to the minister to intervene, investigate his case and revisit the legislation. 

"What would you do if you were in a wheelchair and forced through no fault of your own to live with … less and not have anything to live on, to feel like you had dignity, which is what the SAID program was set up to do — to provide dignity and respect to those people living with a disability," Hall said. 

No comment

A statement from the ministry said it cannot comment on Hall's case — or the issue of spouses of pension recipients losing their SAID payments — for privacy reasons. 

"Under SAID regulations, income is to be deducted from benefits unless the income is specifically exempted in the regulations," said Jeff Redekop, executive director of the ministry's Income Assistance Service Delivery in a written response to questions. 

"Payments such as Old Age Security or Guaranteed Income Supplement that are intended to pay for the same basic needs as provincial income support programs are not exempted. When non-exempted income is received, SAID benefit amounts are adjusted commensurate with the amount of income received."

Redekop said the overall amount of income a person or family receives each month should remain about the same under the process, as long as there are no other changes to eligibility such as a change in family size.

Planning to appeal decision

"Provincial income support programs are 'last resort' programs, and by design do not duplicate benefits paid by other programs for the same purpose," said Redekop. 

"The Ministry is unable to provide you with additional policy information pertaining to the removal of an individual from an income assistance program due to a person's spouse transitioning to federal pension benefit programs because we do not have a policy of this nature.

"The Ministry is only concerned with the federal pension benefit to the extent that it would have an impact on the budget deficit calculation for a family."

In June, Hall tried to appeal the decision but said he was asked to wait because Social Services was going through program changes. 

Now, he is waiting for a written confirmation of the ministry's decision before he launches his appeal, but said he is already behind in his bill payments because of the loss of income. 

He said he has spoken to a lawyer and plans to apply for a court injunction to try to force the province to continue his payments while the appeal is in process.