Finding Your Way Through the Disability Labyrinth Part II


Jennifer Matthews

Advocates at TAPS are often asked about the differences in eligibility requirements and restrictions in relation to the provincially based Persons with Disabilities designation (PWD) offered through the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation (MSDSI) and the federal disability program offered through the Canada Pension Plan, Canadian Pension Plan – Disability (CPP-D). Many of the key differences were explored in Taproot’s previous issue. Building on the information presented in the previous article, the following information seeks to further help you navigate the disability maze by exploring differences between PWD and CPP-D in terms of where you are able to live, within and outside of Canada, and maintain eligibility, restrictions on income and assets, and spousal circumstances.

Where you can live

A key difference between the provincial PWD designation and CPP-D benefits is where you are able to live, in and outside of Canada, and still maintain your eligibility. To be eligible for PWD, you must be a resident of British Columbia and must not leave British Columbia for more than 30 days within the year to maintain your eligibility. There are some instances where you may be able to leave BC for longer than 30 days and maintain PWD eligibility, for example, if you are attending a formal education program in another province or are participating in a particular medical therapy prescribed by a medical practitioner. However, in these circumstances you must receive pre-approval for your continued PWD benefits while out of BC from MSDSI before leaving the province. In the event that you are required to leave the province and have not received pre-approval, you are able to reapply for PWD once back in BC by completing the online income assistance application. For more information about reapplying for PWD after leaving BC for more than 30 days, please contact a TAPS advocate.

Unlike PWD, CPP-D is not affected by your moving from one province to another. Eligibility for CPP-D is also unaffected by mobility outside of Canada. Therefore, if you qualify for CCP-D benefits and choose to reside outside of Canada for a period of time, you are able to continue receiving CPP-D benefits while outside Canada.


Another important difference between PWD and CPP-D is the level of income you are able to obtain while still receiving full PWD or CPP-D. The earnings exemption for PWD is $800 per month. All income earned within a calendar month must be reported to MSDSI through your monthly stub. Any earned income reported over $800 will be deducted from your PWD cheque in the month following the month it was reported. For example, if you reported earning $812.75 in April, you would have $12.75 deducted from your PWD cheque in May. For a family in which two individuals have been given the PWD designation by MSDSI, the monthly earnings exemption increases to $1600 per month.

The CPP-D earning exemption and reporting requirement are significantly different from those of PWD. As a CPP-D recipient you are able to earn up to $5200 annually without risking the loss of your CCP-D benefits. Canada Pension Plan does not require that you report your earnings within the $5200 exemption. However, if you earn over $5200 within a year, contact Canada Pension Plan as soon as possible with the accurate information on your earnings. Income earned above $5200 will be calculated as an overpayment which Canada Pension Plan will require you to pay back.

Cash Assets

The limit on cash assets you are able to have while still maintaining your eligibility to receive monthly disability support is another point of difference between the provincial PWD designation and the federal CPP-D program. For a single person applying for or with confirmed PWD designation, the maximum cash assets you can hold while continuing to receive monthly PWD support is $5000. For couples, as well as one or two - parent families in which at least one partner is receiving PWD support, the cash asset limit is $10,000. It is important to note that even if you receive a sum of cash within the asset limit, it will more than likely be deemed as unearned income by the ministry, and will therefore be deducted from your PWD in the month following the month the money was reported, up to the amount of your cheque. MSDSI strictly enforces PWD asset limits, and holding cash assets above the asset limit may result in your ineligibility to receive monthly PWD support. However, if you are entitled to cash assets above MSDSI’s asset limit for reasons such as a vehicle accident disbursement or an inheritance, there are options available to you. The ministry exempts cash assets held in a non-discretionary trust when considering your continued eligibility for PWD. However, the ministry has set out restrictions on what assets held in trust can be used for. If you have received or will be receiving a cash asset above the asset limit, contact an advocate at TAPS for information about the options available to you.

Because qualifying for CPP-D is based on the contributions you have made to Canada Pension Plan throughout your time in the workforce, CPP-D eligibility is not asset-tested, but rather based on restrictions to your employability. Therefore, CPP-D does not have an asset limit that would affect your eligibility to receive monthly CPP-D benefits.

Spousal Circumstances

Under the Employment and Assistance for Persons With Disabilities Act, the legislation that sets the boundaries for MSDSI’s provision of PWD, your partner is considered your spouse if you have lived in the same residence consecutively for the past three months, or if you have resided together for nine of the previous 12 months, and demonstrate financial and social/family interdependence. If the ministry determines that you and your partner are in a spousal relationship, the income and assets of your partner will be taken into consideration in determining your eligibility for PWD, which may result in the discontinuation of your PWD.

However, unlike PWD, CPP-D is not impacted by whether you choose to live with your partner or not. Your partner’s income and assets have no effect on your eligibility to receive income through CPP-D.

For more information on the various restrictions and benefits that apply to PWD, contact an advocate at TAPS. TAPS can also assist you through the process of completing your PWD application. TAPS focuses on provincially based assistance through MSDSI, and therefore does not help with the completion of CPP-D applications. However, for more information about CPP-D, or for help completing the CPP-D application, you can contact:

Victoria Disability Resource Centre, 817 A Fort St., 250-595-0044
Action Committee of People with Disabilities, 948 View St., 250-383-4105.

If you are applying for CCP-D as an indigenous community member living on reserve, contact:
the B.C. Aboriginal Network on Disability at 250-381-7303.

The B.C Coalition for People with Disabilities in Vancouver can also be reached toll-free at 1-800-663-1278.