The Ministry of Finance unfairly clawed back a key COVID-19 benefit that helped thousands of British Columbians offset employment losses during the pandemic, a new report released today by the Ombudsperson finds.
“This report reveals that government hasn’t taken responsibility for failing to tell impacted people when a requirement retroactively changed for a key pandemic benefit,” said Ombudsperson Jay Chalke.
The report focuses on the BC Emergency Benefit for Workers, a one-time tax-free payment of $1,000 announced in March 2020 that paid out $643 million in benefits over the following months. The Ombudsperson’s report tells the story of two people who applied for the benefit, met all eligibility criteria at the time and received the benefit. They were told later that because a new deadline was imposed retroactively after they applied, they were no longer eligible and the benefit would have to be repaid. The Ombudsperson found that the ministry did not inform these two people, and thousands like them, of the new deadline and therefore requiring them to pay back the benefit was unfair. According to the ministry as of August 2022, 12,000 people were required to pay back the benefit, however that number has continued to rise as the ministry’s audit of the program has continued.
“Providing people with clear and timely information when programs change is a key pillar of fairness,” said Chalke. “Given the speed with which pandemic relief programs were implemented, it’s acceptable that subsequent changes were made to government programs. It is even acceptable that the changes were retroactive. What is not okay is that a change was not communicated to those who applied so that they could take steps to comply with the new rule. That is unfair.”
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Source: The Office of the Ombudsperson of British Columbia, Canada