"I’ve got a dead man at the front counter."
That was the Citizen’s introduction to James Spice (La Mottee). Last month, he qualified for a Canada Pension disability benefit.
"I’ve had five heart attacks. I’ve got five stents," he said. "I got my back pay Nov. 20. It was $8,000 and some. I went out and got a goodrunning car because I need one. Then, I bought myself some clothing and some groceries – typical stuff."
He received his regular CPP cheque on Nov. 25 for the month of December but when he looked for January’s payment, discovered it had not gone into his bank account as expected.
"I figured it’s probably a computer glitch. I phoned my bank and it still wasn’t in."
Once he got hold of someone at Service Canada, Spice said, his story became strange.
"I told him, ‘My cheque didn’t come in. Is there a problem? Is there more paperwork you need from my doctor or something like that?’ He told me he’d check into it. About two minutes later he comes back and says, ‘According to our records, someone phoned in and said you were deceased as of Nov. 28.’" That was a surprise for Spice. "I said, I’m much alive. I’m talking to you right now. He agreed he could hear that. I asked, what is the procedure about this? Shouldn’t you have a death certificate or a coroner’s report or something like that?" That’s not how it works, explained Julie Hahn of the national media relations department of Employment and Social Development Canada.
"Upon the receipt of a death notification, CPP and OAS Regulations require that benefit payments be suspended pending confirmation of the date of death to ensure that benefit payments are not made after the month of death," Hahn said.
"When Service Canada receives a phone call from a third party
informing the department of the death of a beneficiary, the caller is identified and authenticated, and upon which the client’s account is suspended. Service Canada will finalize the account after receiving the death certificate. When an account has been suspended and Service Canada is informed of an error, benefits are reinstated as soon as possible," she explained.
On Nov. 25, Service Canada received a call from a third party indicating that Spice had died but did not realize their error until he contacted them on Dec. 19.
When Spice was first advised of his death, he was amazed and concerned about his cheque as he depends on that money to get by. He was initially told they probably couldn’t do anything for him until the new year.
That possibility drove Spice to MP Jean Crowder’s office.
"They got on the phone and were told that they were going to work on it expeditiously."
A suggestion was made of trying for some action by Christmas Eve.
A visit to the provincial government offices on Friday for a crisis grant netted him $20.
"They couldn’t give me any
more," he said, and was told it was because of the $8,000 payment he received. He was also told to take back some of what he bought with that money if he needed funds.
Spice maintained he had bills to pay and was living on a very small income.
So, it was back to Service Canada, where he was able at least to share some humour with workers.
"I can laugh about it. I called back on Friday asking a woman since I’m deceased, can I get my death benefits? She started howling. I told her, ‘Merry Christmas, I thought I’d make your day.’ And she said I did because she’d never heard that before, that you’re deceased but you want your death benefits. I’m looking pretty good for a dead man," Spice said.
Spice’s funds should be in his bank account soon, assured Hahn.
"Immediately upon being informed of this situation, a priority payment for his December benefit amount was issued that same day [Dec. 19]. Payment will be direct deposited in the next 48 hours into the client’s bank account. Service Canada regrets any inconvenience this error may have caused Mr. Spice," she said.