Canada Child Benefit eligibility reviews causing hardship for single moms, Indigenous families, says lawyer
'I think there are lots and lots of people who should be getting these benefits who aren't'
Eligibility reviews conducted by the Canada Revenue Agency on recipients of the Canada Child Benefit are causing hardship for low income families in northwestern Ontario, and in particular, Indigenous single mothers on social assistance, says the co-ordinator of a legal clinic in Thunder Bay, Ont.
Since the Canada Child Benefit was introduced in 2016, it's become a crucial source of income for many families, said Sally Colquhoun, co-ordinator of legal services at the Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic.
Losing it can leave low-income families without the means to pay for basic necessities.
But that's just what's happening to a many recipients who are being asked to prove they still have custody of their children, and are still eligible, she said.
"There are serious problems with how this benefit is being reviewed," said Colquhoun.
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Colquhoun said when parents are selected for review, they receive a complex letter, asking for detailed information and documentation such as birth certificates, utility bills, school documents and a doctor's letter.
Many families don't have easy access to the records, or professionals, such as doctors or lawyers, who can provide necessary verification, she said. Some can't even afford copies of their children's birth certificates.
And fulfilling the requirements can be even more challenging for people living in remote northern communities.
"So I think often people just kind of give up, and they're not getting the benefit. I think there are lots and lots of people who should be getting these benefits who aren't."
Colquhoun said in her experience, the reviews disproportionately affect Indigenous single mothers.
Affecting Indigenous single moms, families on social assistance
"That's anecdotal, but that's who we see coming into our office for help," she said, adding that clients subject to the reviews also often have larger families.
"And because it's an onerous review process," people are often unable to provide the requested documents by the deadline, and are being cut off from benefits.
Colquhoun said that's what happened to one mother with six children who was reviewed twice in a single year.
"She didn't have enough money to pay her rent. And that's what brought her into our office in the first place, was she was being evicted."
Colquhoun said at the very least, she would like for clients to be supplied with contact information for an agency representative who can be contacted for help, when they're selected for review.
But if clients pass the initial application process, Colquhoun said she doesn't see the need for them to be later subjected to random eligibility reviews at all.
Eligibility reviews are needed to ensure the fairness of its benefit programs, Etienne Biram, a spokesperson for the Canada Revenue Agency said in an emailed statement, adding that file selection does not target any specific demographic, as it is sometimes random and sometimes triggered by a life-change.
But the agency says it recognizes the review process can be challenging.
The agency has reduced the number of documents people are required to submit, and "enhanced proactive efforts," to contact recipients who don't respond on time, the statement said.
"The CRA hopes that with some of the changes, individuals will find it faster, easier and less onerous to validate their eligibility benefits."