Manitobans with disabilities on assistance can’t be forced to apply for pension early, court rules

By | May 5, 2020

Manitobans with disabilities who are on social assistance can’t be forced to apply early for their pension, according to a Court of Appeal ruling issued Tuesday.

It’s a decision that is being called a significant victory for Manitobans with disabilities by the two organizations that intervened in the court case.

“For people with disabilities it is even more crucial that they wait [to apply for a pension] as with age their needs can change and increase,” said Kate Kehler, the executive director of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, in a Tuesday news release.

“The added income is essential to allow for the dignity and security we all should have a right to.”

The Social Planning Council had intervener status in the appeal filed by Martin Stadler against Manitoba’s Social Services Appeal Board in 2018. Stadler, a computer engineer, isn’t able to work because of a physical disability and relies on Manitoba employment and income assistance.

The appeal decision found his Charter rights were violated when he was told in 2014 that he had to apply to collect his pension at age 60, rather than at 65.

According to Manitoba legislation, any person — or their spouse — who’s getting provincial assistance should make all reasonable efforts to get benefits or support from another program, including a federal government program like Canada Pension Plan.

But applying early would mean the value of his pension would be about one-third less than if he waited until 65.

Stadler told his case worker at the time he was worried about his financial security, and didn’t want to apply for his pension early.

He was told that if he didn’t apply for the CPP, his income assistance benefits would be cut off — which they were.

Stadler appealed the decision to the Social Services Appeal Board, which the government’s Department of Families oversees, arguing that his Charter right to be free from discrimination based on disability was being violated. 

In the meantime, he was unable to meet living expenses and had to file for the CPP.

In 2018, a new panel of the Social Services Appeal Board upheld the decision forcing him to apply for CPP at age 60. Stadler then sought, and was granted, leave to take the case to the Manitoba Court of Appeal, which delivered its written decision on Tuesday.

CBC News has reached out to the Manitoba Department of Families for comment on the decision.

‘Profoundly adverse affects’

In the decision, Court of Appeal justices Richard Chartier, Freda Steel and Barbara Hamilton said that Stadler should not be required to apply for Canada Pension Plan benefits until he’s 65, and that the order is retroactive to the date he originally applied for the pension.

They also ordered that the Manitoba Assistance Regulation, which sets out rules around eligibility for provincial benefits, should exclude people with disabilities who are recipients of income assistance from being required to apply for pension benefits before they turn 65.

“Persons with disabilities are among the groups at greatest risk of living in poverty in Canada,” the ruling said.

“The adverse financial consequences are particularly harsh given the increased vulnerability of persons with severe disabilities to poverty.”

Byron Williams, the director of the Public Interest Law Centre — which also had intervener status in Stadler’s appeal — praised the ruling.

“It recognizes that even a law that is neutral on its face can have a profoundly adverse effect on historically disadvantaged groups,” he said in a news release.

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