Montreal seniors and seniors advocates say they are still not getting adequate explanations for why some Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) payments were cut with little or no warning, representing more than half the monthly income of seniors in some cases.
“We have at least half a dozen who are in this situation and we’re still getting phone calls,” said Margaret van Nooten of Project Genesis, a community organization that advocates for seniors.
She explained it’s been happening since July and it’s worse than in previous years.
In response to Global News’ request for an explanation last week Service Canada wrote in a statement, “each July, Service Canada mails letters to GIS recipients for whom no income information was received. The letter indicates that their ongoing entitlement cannot be determined without their income information, and includes a statement of income form.
“Seniors are also advised that they can also provide their income information to Service Canada over the phone.”
The problem, van Nooten pointed out in response to the statement, is seniors get the letter just days before the payment is interrupted, or after the payment has already stopped.
“So that’s really leaving people high and dry for too long,” she told Global News. “The forms could be sent out in May and that actually used to be done.”
As for calling Service Canada to give the information, workers at Project Genesis who call on clients’ behalf say they’re put on hold for hours.
“When we call Service Canada the wait times are unusually long,” said Su Sokol, an employee of the organization.
“The choice is usually between unusually long wait times or you can’t even get on hold because they won’t allow you to get on hold because it’s such a long wait time.”
Barbara Hudson’s supplement also stopped in July and she’s still wondering why.
In the email explanation, Service Canada wrote to Global News, “we have not received any income information for the year 2021, either from a 2021 CRA income tax return or directly from the client. This resulted in the suspension of their benefits in July 2022 and a letter being sent to the client.”
But according to Hudson she couldn’t provide the information because she did not receive her statement of income form until July, and got no tax forms because she only received her first pension payment in March.
“A lot of people are in the same situation, because of delays,” she said.
In a new statement addressing the concerns expressed by Project Genesis workers above, Service Canada wrote that they take steps every year to decrease GIS suspensions.
About the long wait times on the phone they wrote, “when callers experience difficulties reaching the call centre, they are encouraged to call at another time, if they are able to wait for assistance. Normally, call volumes for the Pension Call Centre are higher at the beginning of the week and clients may have more success reaching a call centre agent later in the week.
“Additionally, the Pension Call Centre has a monthly call volume peak on the 3rd last business day of the month due to clients receiving their payments on that day. Clients who are experiencing trouble reaching the call centre can obtain service in-person at a Service Canada Centre“