Seniors are losing out

Roughly 150,000 Canadian seniors are missing out on receiving Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) benefits

A recent study by the Financial Literacy Task Force determined that roughly 150,000 Canadian seniors are missing out on receiving Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) benefits for which they are eligible, simply because they failed to apply.

Application for Old Age Security (OAS) and Canada Pension Plan (CPP) benefits must also be made before they can be received. It’s a fair assumption that thousands of Canadian seniors, including many locally, are losing out on these entitlements because they are either unaware of their eligibility, or of the need to make application.

Even should a senior apply belatedly, retroactive payment of benefits is limited to a maximum of 12 months. This can mean thousands of dollars in otherwise-eligible benefits are forever lost to the individual.

A similar situation exists for many Canadians who are eligible for one or more of a wide variety of potential veterans’ benefits. Again several problems exist. Many veterans are simply not aware of the benefits available, or of the need to make specific application in order to receive them. As with OAS and GIS programs, retroactivity is severely restricted.

My father-in-law was 75 years old and in declining health before a chance conversation with a fellow vet made him aware that for years, he and his wife had been missing out on several valuable benefits, including prosthetics, hearing aids, home meal delivery, and cleaning services. Once he applied however, he began to receive the benefits.

With a vast and expensive federal bureaucracy administering each of these programs, it is unconscionable that so many of our senior citizens and veterans, often among the neediest of Canadians, are left to cope with first, understanding their entitlement, and second, having to specifically apply for it. Surely it is not unreasonable to expect that Canadians be notified of potential entitlements, and that the application process be simplified or eliminated.

Until government modifies the system to enable every eligible senior and vet to receive the benefits to which they are entitled, what can we do to help? You may have a relative, friend, or neighbour who is over age 65, or a veteran, or both. Ask if they are aware of their various entitlements, and whether they have applied for them. If not, assist with obtaining the necessary information, and submitting the appropriate application. For GIS benefits in particular, it is critical that each senior file an annual tax return, even when no tax is payable. The level of GIS benefit is determined directly from the income levels declared on that return.

We should all lobby our MPs to make a more focused effort to ensure that these entitlement programs are extended to each and every senior and veteran who is eligible to receive them. The onus should shift to the government to assist all individuals in receiving the benefit to which they are entitled. Furthermore, if a delay in implementation does for some reason occur, retroactivity of payments should not be restricted.

A retired corporate executive, enjoying post-retirement as a financial consultant, Peter Dolezal is the author of three books. His most recent, The Smart Canadian Wealth-Builder, is now available at Tanner’s Books, and in other bookstores.

The information contained in this column is for information purposes only. The investment and services mentioned in this column may not be suitable for everyone. Contact an independent financial advisor before making any investment decisions.