As the weather gets colder, people may find their need for government support becomes increasingly urgent. The usual wait from the time a person completes an online application for Income Assistance with the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation (the Ministry) and the time they are able to receive a cheque is from 4 to 6 weeks. Many people simply cannot wait that long.
If you find yourself in need of financial assistance and you are not currently receiving any provincial Income Assistance or “Persons With Disabilities” assistance, please consider the following: if you have an immediate need for food, shelter, or urgent medical attention (which includes things such as the need for medical supplies, prescriptions or medical transportation), you have a BC Hydro disconnection notice or you are a pre-release prisoner, you have what the Ministry considers an “Immediate Need”.
The Ministry’s policies, which are posted online on their “Online Resource” (www.gov.bc.ca/meia/online_resource/application/immneeds/policy), state that during Stage 1 of your application process—which is where a person applies online for Income Assistance—Ministry staff must determine whether an applicant has an “Immediate Need”. These needs do not need to persist for any minimum period of time. However, you will have to meet the Ministry’s income and asset requirements. The availability of shelters and food banks, according to the Ministry’s own policies, does not negate an “Immediate Need”.
If you have an “Immediate Need”, the Ministry’s policy states: “Staff must ensure the applicant is provided with or informed of and directed to other available resources (e.g. food/sundries vouchers, bus tickets for local travel, shelter referral, provided funds for urgent medical attention such as transportation or referrals to medical centers or Medical Services Plan (MSP) etc.) until an intake interview can be held to determine eligibility.” Providing the applicant with resources to meet their need in the interim does not mean that the applicant no longer requires an expedited eligibility interview.
If you are a person who does not have a mental or physical disability that precludes you from working and this is your first time applying for Income Assistance, you are required to complete a five-week work search before proceeding to Stage 2 of the Income Assistance application, where applicants who have been deemed eligible for income assistance are informed of their rights and obligations as a person receiving provincial Income Assistance; if you have been on income assistance before, you are required to complete a three-week work search. However, if you have an “Immediate Need”, you are not required to complete a work search before proceeding to Stage 2. The Ministry should provide you with Hardship Assistance in this case.
Hardship Assistance here is usually the same amount of money as you would receive if you were provided with Income Assistance, but it is conditional: in order to continue to get your Hardship Assistance, you must comply with your work search requirements (the Ministry will inform you of what these are). Please note: this does not mean that you have to find a job in the three/five week work search period. Rather, it means that you must follow through on your work search plan. If you do not, you will not receive your Hardship Assistance.
Recently, a substantial number of clients have come to the TAPS office because the Ministry has failed to comply with their “Immediate Needs” policies. Clients have reported going to the Ministry’s offices, often more than once, and telling the Ministry worker that they need assistance due to one or more of the identified “Immediate Needs”, and receiving no assistance.
Here is what we suggest you do if you find yourself with an “Immediate Need” and you are not currently receiving any sort of provincial Ministry assistance: Apply online for basic Income Assistance at www.sdsi.gov.bc.ca/bcea. On question 91 of your online application, it will ask if there is any additional information you would like to include: in the box that is offered for your answer, write “require an Immediate Needs Assessment” and then state that you have a need for food, shelter, and/or urgent medical attention, have a BC Hydro disconnection notice and/or are a pre-release prisoner.
After you have submitted your online application, either call or attend the Ministry’s offices the next business day. At this point, state again your need for an “Immediate Needs Assessment”. If you are attending the Ministry’s offices, please write down the date, time and name of the worker or receptionist that you speak to. As well, do not provide original documents (whether this is a prescription, eviction notice or hydro disconnection) as documents often get lost and you may have to provide them again.
If you are unsuccessful in getting assistance when you follow up with the Ministry either in person or on the phone, contact Together Against Poverty Society and ask to speak to an income assistance advocate. Please state that you need assistance with an “Immediate Needs Assessment”.
It is important to know that the Ministry and its workers should provide applicants with assistance, whether it is through referrals or the provision of resources, and that these applications are supposed to be dealt with on an urgent basis. The Ministry’s own policies state: “The availability of shelters and food banks is not to be considered as negating an immediate need.” [emphasis added] The policies also state that meeting the “Immediate Need” in the interim does not mean the applicant no longer requires an expedited eligibility review.
Together Against Poverty Society’s Income Assistance Legal Advocates can help you with these matters if you are unsuccessful on your own. We are sorry to report that we are unable to assist clients with initial online Income Assistance applications as we do not have the space or computers to provide this service. If you would like to speak with an advocate or be directed to resources that could help you with your initial online Income Assistance application, please call TAPS at 250-361-3521.