No piece of cake! Linda Chamberlain applies for the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS)

I am supposed to know about retiring on a low income.  That includes obtaining the Guaranteed Income Supplement for people who turn age 65.I am supporting the Old Age Security application of a woman named Linda Chamberlain. She turns 65 on July 3, 2014. This will be in some ways a dress rehearsal for my own application since I turn 65 in August 2015.

Right now, Linda has no income other than her ODSP cheque and the odd gift from others.  We did not apply for a meagre amount of CPP.  I wrote about that here:  Linda Chamberlain and CPP

Linda’s move to Old Age Security is a good story. Her income will go from about $1,035 a month to $1,700. However, since she lives in subsidized housing, her rent will almost quadruple from $109 a month to about $510. She should get her first old age payments in August and will be cut off ODSP at the end of July.

Overall, Linda will be ahead of the game but the extras that she gets through ODSP (a special diet and gastro-urinary supplies) will no longer be available. She will have to pay for them out of her own pocket. Still, Linda will be pocketing about $265 a month in extra money and she won’t have to report to a worker every month.

Linda’s income and expenses: before and after

Income source Before: ODSP and Tax Credits After: OAS/GIS/GAINS-A and Tax Credits
Approximate Amounts

$1,035

$1,700

Rent

$109

$510

After Rent income

$926

$1,190

Bottom Line Linda is About $265 a month ahead on turning age 65

That’s the good side of the story.

The bad side is how wickedly hard it is to apply for the GIS. And that’s a story that has yet to end.

When Linda first got her notice to apply for Old Age Security, we filled out the forms together nine months in advance back in October 2013.

There is a ‘tick box’ that asks you if you want to apply for the GIS. We ticked the box.

I had noticed on-line that there is a copy of the GIS form and wanted to be sure that we could use it for Linda’s application. I reasoned that we could apply for OAS and GIS at the same time. We called the toll-free number to see if this was OK.

“You can’t use that form” said the woman from Service Canada.

“It’s not the right form. It won’t be processed. You’ll have to wait until the new form comes out”

I asked the simple question: “When will that be?”

“We don’t have a time yet but it will be in the New Year. But if you ticked the box, you will get one in the mail”

Fast Forward to March 2014 and I was starting to get nervous. We had not received the GIS application. And I had already discovered that Service Canada takes 17 weeks to process a GIS application. I didn’t like the math. We phoned again.

“It’s coming out soon – you will get it in the mail.”

By mid-April, the application had not arrived and by this point I was more than nervous and called Service Canada again.

The very friendly woman from Service Canada said she would send out another copy of the form and said I would get it within a week. Then she said:

“Why don’t you use the on-line form?”

“But I was told not to use it.”

“The new one has been up since April 1. You can use that one.”

I printed it out and Linda and I had it in the mails in a ‘New York minute’. I even mailed it directly from the Gateway postal outlet on Eastern Avenue on April 16th to avoid further delay.

For the record, the paper GIS application arrived at my home on April 30, exactly two weeks after the phone call. Two weeks later, on May 15, 2014, Linda received her own copy of the GIS application in the mail leaving her just 12 of the 17 weeks needed for an on time application. She received it precisely seven months after she submitted her Old Age Security application.

Service Canada is effectively saying that it is setting deadlines for its services that through its own actions, the applicant cannot possibly meet.

So now we sweat. The first week of August is only 15 weeks from when they would have received the application and we already know they need 17 weeks. We call Service Canada again.

“We need 17 weeks to process the application.”

I told the operator that there had only been 17 weeks and two days since the GIS form was released on-line, we did not know about it until two weeks into April, and Linda did not get her own copy of the application until mid-May.

“Then you will have to phone at the end of July and check the application with us. If it has not been processed, you will have to inform us that she is a ‘hardship case’.

“Or we could also go to her MP’s office?”

“Yes you could do that also”.

This story is not over.

Or perhaps it is just starting.

Why would Service Canada put us through this ordeal?

Why can they not publicize the date on which new GIS applications are placed on-line.

Why do they leave old forms on line and then inform people on the phone that they are unusable? There is no such warning on the website.

Why do they need so much time to process them in a timely manner but give the consumer deadlines that are impossible to meet?

But more than anything else, why can’t they simply transfer Linda’s tax return with her permission to Service Canada and make the payments for which they already know she is eligible? You can’t apply for OAS unless you file a tax return. All of the information required for a GIS application is contained in the tax return.

So Service Canada sets deadlines for applications that the applicant cannot possible meet and does so in order to obtain information that they already have.

I will update this blog in late July. By then Linda will have no money and be awaiting her first Old Age cheques.

Her rent will go up to $510 based on the assumption that she will get her full Old Age Security.

If she only gets the basic OAS of $551 a month, she will have $41 to pay a hydro bill of over $100.

If she does not pay her hydro on time, she will receive an eviction notice.

Getting enough food to live will be an adventure.

Stay tuned!

Js/May 16, 2014

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