Social Security Tribunal a big failure

We all want an efficient public service, one that ensures government programs work and provide a benefit to citizens.

But the new Social Security Tribunal, announced with much fanfare in a Conservative budget, is a bust. A fundamental characteristic of our system of social security is the right for a claimant to appeal a decision to deny them benefits.

The new Social Security Tribunal (SST) replaces four separate tribunals that heard appeals for employment insurance, Canada Pension Plan and CPP-Disability, and Old Age Security. Last year the new tribunal only heard 461 appeals. The previous appeal bodies heard thousands of appeals in the same time.

Since the new "simplified" tribunal is only 75 full-time appointees compared to more

than 1,000 part-time referees who used to hear cases, it shouldn’t be a surprise that it cannot hear all the cases in an efficient manner.

But there are provisions for more appointees to be hired – there are currently 25 vacancies listed on the SST

website. And the legislation allows for more part-time tribunal members to be hired to clear backlogs of appeals.

The Conservative government is not taking action.

Instead, some Canadians are waiting more than a year and sometimes two years for an appeal to be scheduled. And that is after the initial decision which can take up to 26 weeks for CPP-Disability.

These are programs that are supposed to be there for Canadians when they need them. For someone whose working life is cut short by an accident or disability,

they shouldn’t have to wait years to get their benefits.

New Democrats discovered that the government isn’t even tracking how long people have to wait for a hearing.

More alarmingly, an Access to Information request obtained by Canadian Press revealed that the SST is no longer tracking the success and failure rates of Canada Pension Plan disability appeals.

So the government has no idea if this process is providing efficient service at all. This is another social service that was working for Canadians that is now broken.

Citizens are paying the price. These are unemployed people, persons with disabilities, and seniors who have no income and need to pay their bills and buy their groceries. It is wrong for the government to make them wait years while it gets it act together.

Jean Crowder is the Member of Parliament for Nanaimo-Cowichan