On March 30, 2015, the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation transitioned the Disability Assistance office at 403-771 Vernon Avenue (known as the Gateway office) into a Service BC centre. As a result, the services available to individuals on income or disability assistance have changed. For example, all face-to-face interaction with ministry workers no longer exists, and the centre now serves a wider range of clients, including businesses.
Prior to this transition, the Gateway office had Employment and Assistance Workers (EAWs) available to offer in-person assistance to ministry clients. As a Service BC centre, these EAWs are no longer accessible for in-person meetings. Instead, clients must now talk to Service BC employees, who are limited in the services they are able to provide to individuals seeking ministry assistance.
Richard Stebeck, a manager with Service BC, says that the Service BC employees will focus on trying to help clients use self-serve tools at the centre. These include online applications and the ministry’s toll-free phone number. The Service BC centre has six computer and phone stations available for public use. There are another three phones, and a printer and copier also available. However, this raises concerns for individuals who may face barriers to using these technologies. The stations are also extremely restricted in their use: the computers are limited to accessing only government websites and applications. Clients are not allowed to use tools such as e-mail or Google to aid them in seeking and applying for assistance.
Staff at TAPS are concerned that the needs of income and disability assistance recipients will not be adequately met by this new centre. Service BC is a one-size-fits-all resource that provides provincial government services to individuals and businesses. Stebeck explained that the Gateway office now provides BC Registry services (i.e., registration for businesses), Rural Property Tax, and Residential Tenancy Branch information. Service BC is also looking to introduce new services in the next six months.
In trying to serve as many different kinds of clients as possible through cost- and resource-saving measures, Service BC and the ministry may neglect to consider the needs of their clients on income and disability assistance, who often face numerous barriers including literacy, physical and mental health issues, and colonialism and other forms of oppression. Stebeck states that this transition is good for ministry clients, as it sets Service BC as the “first stop” for general information, while freeing trained ministry professionals to conduct more “behind-the-scenes work.” TAPS feels this shift in services is detrimental to clients, and believes the ministry should adopt a client-centered approach to service delivery.
Access to this centre is further complicated by new rules about its catchment area. Before, the Gateway office served disability assistance clients from anywhere in Victoria; now Service BC can only distribute cheques and documents to clients who live in its catchment area. This area starts north of Finlayson Street (Mayfair Mall), and includes Saanich and the West Shore. If you are a ministry client and prefer to use the downtown office (Pandora), you can request to have it changed to your home office, regardless of where you live.