The Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation (MSDSI) has leapt into the 21st century with an updated online application process for income assistance. This application also acts as the initial gateway to Persons with Disability (PWD) assistance. While better software can be helpful, this new application is a further movement away from providing accessible services that actually work for the people who need to access these services. I’ll lay out what you need to know before discussing some of the problems that I see.
What You Need to Know About the New Income Assistance Application
The new income assistance application is on MySelfServe, the Ministry’s online portal, but there are a few steps you have to take before you get there. First, you need a BCeID, which you set up online at www.bceid.ca. You then need to create a MySelfServe account, which you do online, at www.myselfserve.gov.bc.ca. For both of these, you need access to a working email address.
Once you have the basics, and you’ve waited for MySelfServe to process your signup (about ten minutes), you can proceed to apply for income assistance. The questionnaire will ask for details on your housing, banking, and employment situation and history. You are required, in the most basic cases, to have digital photographs or scans of:
- your physical SIN card (providing the number is not sufficient)
- two additional pieces of ID (one of which must be photographic)
- a recent photo of yourself
- stamped bank statements for the last 60 days (not online printouts)
- your lease
- bank profile forms for all banks
- evidence of your work search activities
You also need to provide these details for your partner, if you’re married or common law. If you cannot provide all of this, you can save your application and return to it once you have the documents ready to upload. If you are unable to provide digital documents, you must bring paper copies to your local MSDSI or Service BC office and submit them there. Be warned, though— the Ministry will likely close your file if there is no activity on your application for a period of five days.
Once you successfully complete the online application and upload or submit all documents, you are placed in the queue for a phone intake interview. The Ministry will call or use MySelfServe messaging to schedule this. If you do not have access to a phone, the Ministry claims that an in-person intake process is always an option, so make sure you request this during your application by entering a comment at the end which clearly states that you have no access to a phone. The timeline for scheduling a phone interview is between two and twenty business days, depending on the urgency of your application. If you are fleeing an abusive relationship, the wait time is up to five business days. If you are facing imminent homelessness, or are already homeless, the wait time is up to ten business days. These wait times are in addition to the mandatory 30-day work search period that is required before you apply for income assistance, and in person intakes have a longer wait time
During your phone interview, the Ministry may request further documents, and may also require a second phone interview once those documents are submitted.
What’s Wrong with Income Assistance Intake in BC?
Income assistance is explicitly designed to be the support of last resort, for people who have exhausted all other possibilities. People who have exhausted all resources are necessarily desperate, often on the edge of homelessness, or already experiencing homelessness. The level of technical savvy, access to electronic resources, and time required to successfully apply for income assistance is an incredible barrier to accessing this support.
Perhaps, were the Ministry providing access to computers or phones, or if they were willing to work with applicants to reach approval, this new application would be a manageable hurdle. As it stands, the Ministry searches to find a reason for denial. They also consistently direct people to charitable organizations for assistance completing their own application. The Ministry, and the government controlling it, knows that advocacy organizations are deeply reluctant to refuse to assist clients in these situations. We are fully aware that the barriers the Ministry has put in place will completely prevent many very desperate people from accessing income and disability assistance without our help. And without that assistance, these people will doubtless end up homeless, and perhaps worse.
Whenever they are confronted with the problems of an online-only application, the Ministry argues that increasing digitization doesn’t bar anyone from receiving assistance, because those who really need can have an in-person intake process. If you have difficulties having the Ministry schedule an in-person interview, please contact Stephen or Daniel at TAPS, as we have not heard of anyone managing to successfully complete an in-person intake.
Considered on its own, this new application could seem a relatively benign attempt to update a dated platform, and allow users to make use of smartphones and similar technology. But when one considers the Ministry office closures, the removal of most in-person service options, and the mounting documentation requirements, it is clear that the Ministry is focussed entirely on cutting costs. They do this by making income assistance as difficult as legally possible to obtain, instead of assisting their desperate clients through challenging periods, or supporting them while they search for work. Fewer recipients, less cost. They do this by forcibly downloading their responsibilities on charitable community organizations, instead of providing responsive, efficient service. Fewer responsibilities, less cost. And, last month, they did this by rolling out a platform which requires smartphone-based internet access, instead of creating an intake process that can meet the needs of their clients. Fewer completed applications, less cost. This is not the social safety net that most Canadians believe should be there for people when they need it most.