Finding Your Way Through the Disability Labyrinth


Stephen Portman, Income Assistance Advocate

The Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation (MSDSI) requires that people with the provincial Person With Disabilities designation (PWD) explore all other potential sources of income as a condition of their continued eligibility for financial support. This includes looking into their eligibility for Canadian Pension Plan - Disability (CCP-D). CPP-D is the federal disability program offered through the Canada Pension Plan, while PWD is available through the provincial MSDSI. The two programs have different criteria for qualifying, different restrictions in relation to income and assets, and different supplementary benefits. The following article will set out some of the key differencesbetween PWD and CPP-D, with advice on how and when to apply.

Qualifying Criteria

In order to qualify for CPP-D you must have a severe and prolonged disability, be under the age of 64, and have made sufficient CPP contributions over your years of employment. In order to qualify for PWD you must be 18 years of age or older (you can apply six months before your 18th birthday), have a severe cognitive or physical impairment that is likely to last for a minimum of two years, and be significantly restricted, either periodically or continuously, in your ability to perform Activities of Daily Living (ADL) independently, resulting in a significant need for regular assistance to perform these ADLs. The major difference between the eligibility criteria for PWD and CPP-D rests on employability. When decision makers for the federal government are deciding on whether or not to approve a CPP-D application, they are trying to determine if the applicant is incapable of regularly pursuing any substantially gainful employment. When decision makers for the provincial government are deciding on whether or not to approve PWD, they are trying to determine if the applicant is incapable of independently performing ADLs. In short, approval for CPP-D turns on the applicant’s employability, while approval for PWD turns on the applicant’s ability to perform activities of daily living independently.

How to Apply

To apply for CPP-D you need to obtain an application, which you can do through Service Canada, either in person at their office at 1401 Douglas Street, or by calling 1-800-277-9914 and having the application mailed to your address. Alternatively, you can access the application online at, print it off and then complete it. Once you have the application completed, it must be signed and mailed back to Service Canada. CPP-D applications are openly available to the public.

To apply for PWD you need first to apply for basic welfare through MSDSI. You can apply for PWD regardless of whether or not you are denied for welfare — you just need to get a file opened at MSDSI. Once you have completed the initial application for welfare you can request a PWD application from the staff at MSDSI. You can do this in person at one of the ministry offices in Victoria (908 Pandora Street or #403-771 Vernon Street, near Uptown Centre) or by calling the ministry at 1-866-866-0800 and requesting that an application be mailed to you. An initial application for CPP-D takes approximately four to six months to be approved or denied, while a PWD application usually takes three to four months. Remember, if you are denied for either CPP-D or PWD you can appeal the decision. Be sure to get an advocate to support you if you wish to appeal.

Medical Benefits

Another important difference between CCP-D and PWD is that CPP-D offers no supplementary medical benefits, while PWD offers coverage for enhanced pharmacare, as well as some coverage for physiotherapy, chiropractic and massage therapy. Oddly, the order in which you apply for CPP-D and PWD may affect the level of medical benefits you are ultimately entitled to. This can be very important for people with health concerns as their costs for drugs and therapies can be high.

This is how it works: If a person qualifies for CPP-D and receives an amount above what the provincial PWD provides, they will not be eligible to apply for PWD and will not be able to access many of the benefits provided to people receiving PWD. However, if that same person applies for PWD first, qualifies for PWD and then subsequently applies for CPP-Disability, even if the amount they receive on CPP-D renders them ineligible to continue to receive income through PWD, their eligibility for medical services continues. They are moved into the MSDSI category called “Medical Services Only.” It is because of these medical benefits that it is in fact better for most people if they apply for PWD before applying for CPP-D.

Recently, the advocates at TAPS have heard from a couple of clients that MSDSI frontline staff have encouraged them to apply for CPP-D before they apply for PWD. This is not an advisable course of action as it could lead to your receiving lower medical benefits than you would otherwise be entitled to.

If You Are Already on PWD

If you are already on PWD you may be required by the ministry to apply for CPP-D. This is a lawful request and you should take the necessary steps to make an application for CPP-D in a timely fashion. If you are denied CPP-D benefits nothing happens. You keep receiving your regular PWD support just as you did before you applied. If you are approved for CPP-D, any income that you receive will be deducted dollar for dollar
from your PWD support. In most cases we see at TAPS, people end up getting two cheques — one PWD and one CPP-D — that add up to their original PWD amount, so there is no change in the amount of monthly support money they receive. For example, someone who is receiving $906 per month on PWD, and who successfully applies for CPP-D and qualifies to receive $800 per month from CPP-D, will have their PWD cheque reduced to
$106 per month, with the result that they will receive a total of $906 per month, exactly what they were receiving before they qualified for CPP-D. If you are approved for CPP-D and the amount you are to receive monthly exceeds your PWD benefit amount, then you will no longer receive financial assistance from the province but can maintain your eligibility for medical services. If you want more information on the benefits available to those on PWD, you can contact an advocate at TAPS. TAPS can also help you through the application process for PWD. TAPS does not help people with CPP-D applications, but here are a few organizations that do:

  • Victoria Disability Resource Centre, 817 A Fort Street, 250-595-0044;
  • Action Committee of People with Disabilities, 948 View Street, 250-383-4105;
  • B.C. Aboriginal Network on Disability (CPP-Disability applications for Aboriginal people living on reserve only) 250-381-7303;

and, in Vancouver,

  • the BC Coalition of People with Disabilities, 1-800-663-1278 (toll free)

Differences between PWD and CPP-D in relation to income, assets, spousal circumstance, and where you can live will be explored in the next issue of the Taproot.