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November 6, 2016

Pick-up on Disability Benefits

Reuel S. Amdur

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A while back, I received an e-mail from an accountant in Newmarket who specializes in disability-related matters. Could I go see a fellow with a serious brain injury who needs some help in navigating the tax system? He is the relative of a prominent political figure.

So off I went, to meet him and his wife. 

While they had an accountant, he was obviously not into the ins and outs of disability provisions.  The provisions do not do any good unless people take advantage of them, unless there is pick-up.  I told them about provisions they should pursue.  She was capable of the task.

His case is not alone, and the various programs and entitlements are several. 

There is the disability tax credit, and even people who know about it may not be aware that the form one completes for that entitlement also opens the door for the Registered Disability Savings Program, under which the government puts money away for old age. 

Then there is a family caregiver amount, a child disability benefit and a supports deduction.  That last one compensates a person with a disability for certain expenses related to work or education.  There may be a right to back-date some entitlements.

Providing the benefits is not good enough. 

Equally important is to facilitate the pick-up.  And there we encounter a major barrier.  Richard Shillington identified a serious gap in pick-up of the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS).  As a result of his advocacy efforts, the Canada Revenue Agency now contacts seniors who appear eligible, to make them aware of the entitlement.  While the package of disability entitlements is more complicated than the GIS, people applying for any one of them might be contacted with a package of information.

There is a role for the federal government and for the various organizations in the disability community in making people aware of their entitlements to the various disability programs. 

Let’s begin with the role of the disability community. 

When it comes to getting the papers filled out at tax time for the normal routine of putting things in order with the Canada Revenue Agency, were does one go to get the help of someone who is aware of all the entitlements and instruments? 

What accountant or other person preparing returns is knowledgeable about disability?  The family I met with obviously went to the wrong person for this service.

Alternatively, so that it is not work that is duplicated by a gazillion different organizations, a single one could take on the role, for example, a social planning council.

Now we come to the federal role. 

The Canada Revenue Agency should arrange half-day or full-day seminars on disability-related matters.  Accountants, lawyers, other tax preparers, people working in the field of services for the disabled—all of these people could be invited to participate.  Those attending should receive a certificate of attendance and should be on a list for updates.

Certificate holders could then be the go-to people for the disabled.  You could call an accountancy and ask, “Do you have someone on your staff who has this certificate?”  Or you might call the Schizophrenia Society and ask, “Where could I go to have my tax work done?”

Just a final word about federal politicians. 

If you want to contact a federal politician about a matter related to his family, good luck.  Their systems do not easily allow such matters to get through the screening process.  While looking after all of us, they also need to tweak their communications system so that their family and personal matters are also taken into consideration.

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