Ot­tawa mak­ing se­nior ben­e­fits fraud proof

Test­ing new, sim­pli­fied ap­pli­ca­tion form for old age se­cu­rity re­cip­i­ents

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - JOR­DAN PRESS

Fed­eral of­fi­cials are work­ing to elim­i­nate any fraud or mis­takes from the govern­ment’s largest se­niors ben­e­fits pro­gram through a mas­sive re­view of pay­ments and test­ing a new way to catch prob­lems be­fore they get into the sys­tem.

Govern­ment of­fi­cials are in the midst of a large-scale, na­tional re­view of ex­ist­ing old age se­cu­rity re­cip­i­ents with in­ves­ti­ga­tors con­tact­ing se­niors to go over de­tails like mar­i­tal sta­tus, un­re­ported de­par­tures from Canada or un­re­ported deaths.

And in May, the govern­ment started test­ing a new, sim­pli­fied ap­pli­ca­tion form for old age se­cu­rity ben­e­fits to pre­vent any mis­un­der­stand­ings about el­i­gi­bil­ity — specif­i­cally the ques­tions about res­i­dency where con­cerns have been raised about po­ten­tial fraud.

The find­ings from the re­view and the ap­pli­ca­tion pi­lot project will feed into a larger strat­egy to mod­ern­ize the old age se­cu­rity pro­gram and im­prove pay­ment ac­cu­racy.

The de­part­ment over­see­ing the pro­gram, Em­ploy­ment and So­cial De­vel­op­ment Canada, says pay­ments are ac­cu­rate al­most 99 per cent of the time.

But mis­takes even one per cent of the time can mean hun­dreds of mil­lions in mis­taken pay­ments: Old age se­cu­rity ben­e­fits are ex­pected to cost the fed­eral trea­sury about $51.1 bil­lion this fis­cal year, al­most the com­bined to­tal of pay­ments this year through em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance and the Canada Child Ben­e­fit.

And the spend­ing is ex­pected to grow by about 5.7 per cent an­nu­ally be­tween now and 2021, faster than the pro­jected in­crease in the size of the Cana­dian econ­omy, based on fore­casts in this year’s fed­eral bud­get.

Un­der old age se­cu­rity rules, a per­son has to have lived in Canada for at least 10 years af­ter they turn 18 and make their “home and or­di­nary lives in any part of Canada” to be el­i­gi­ble for pay­ments.

This means more than a phys­i­cal pres­ence in Canada: A per­son may have prop­er­ties in mul­ti­ple coun­tries, but only one of them is con­sid­ered home, so the de­part­ment eval­u­ates how at­tached an ap­pli­cant is to Canada.

Last Oc­to­ber, a for­mer Ser­vice Canada em­ployee de­tailed in a lengthy doc­u­ment — a cross be­tween a re­port and pre­sen­ta­tion, com­plete with ta­bles, il­lus­tra­tions and photos — his be­lief that the OAS ap­pli­ca­tion was flawed, specif­i­cally the ques­tion about res­i­dency.

So­cial De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter Jean-Yves Du­c­los had a chance to read the mis­sive in a brief­ing note from de­part­ment of­fi­cials ear­lier this year.

Of­fi­cials ar­gued that the for­mer em­ployee’s con­cerns were mis­placed, not­ing that the per­cent­age of in­ac­cu­rate pay­ments are min­i­mal.

The most re­cent fig­ures from the de­part­ment show that pay­ments were ac­cu­rate in 98.64 per cent of cases. Up­dated num­bers for the last fis­cal year, which ended in March, will be avail­able at the end of the sum­mer.

“Though val­i­dat­ing res­i­dence re­quire­ments present some in­her­ent risk to the pro­gram, this risk re­lates specif­i­cally to a sub­set of ap­pli­cants and is mit­i­gated through a num­ber of es­tab­lished de­part­men­tal prac­tices,” of­fi­cials wrote to Du­c­los in a brief­ing note ob­tained by The Cana­dian Press un­der ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion law. The brief­ing note de­tailed the new ap­pli­ca­tion form and the large-scale res­i­dency re­view.

There is also a govern­ment bill that would al­low the Canada Bor­der Ser­vices Agency to col­lect and share in­for­ma­tion with ESDC about every­one leav­ing the coun­try so the data could be used to de­ter­mine whether some­one has been hon­est on their ap­pli­ca­tion form. The bill, known as C-21, was in­tro­duced in June 2016, but hasn’t budged on the leg­isla­tive agenda.

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