Federal Benefits and Programs for Seniors
The federal government is most responsible for income security programs for seniors. They manage two major public pension (‘income security’) programs through Service Canada:
- Old Age Security (OAS), based on years of living in Canada, and
- Canada Pension Plan (CPP), based on years of work in Canada and the amount paid into the plan.
OAS benefits represent about 14% of pre-retirement earnings for someone earning at the average wage, while CPP provides about 25%. It is generally considered that retirement income should replace about 60% to 70% of pre-retirement earnings for retirees to maintain their standard of living in retirement.
More information on the various income security programs can be found at Service Canada. We also provide more information below. You can find your nearest Service Canada Office by clicking here: Find your nearest Service Canada office
Information about most federal government programs for seniors can be found below, and at Seniors Canada.
Find information you need on community organizations, retirement residences, medical offices, etc.
OAS is considered “the basic building block of Canada’s retirement income system.” [Can. Centre for Policy Alternatives]. Older adults build on this foundation with CPP pension, savings (RRSPs; TFSA), private pension plans, or GIS and SAFER supplements [see below]. OAS is a flat monthly benefit that goes to everyone who applies, provided they are citizens or legal residents of Canada who have lived in the country for 10 or more years as an adult (after turning 18). With 10 years residency you get the minimum pro-rated entitlement, and with 40+ yrs. you receive the full OAS entitlement (presently $540.12/mo.)
NOTE – even if an older adult doesn’t meet the residency requirement, they may still qualify for a pension since Canada has social security agreements with many countries.
There is no requirement to stop working to receive OAS. Older adults should apply for Old Age Security benefits six months before they turn 65, or when they receive the OAS application form. If they apply late, they are entitled to a maximum 11 months of retro, plus the month in which they receive the application, provided all conditions of eligibility are met.
If the older adult was not born in Canada or has not lived continuously in Canada since age 18, they must submit proof of legal status in Canada such as citizenship or immigration papers. Also, they must submit a statement of all the dates they arrived in Canada and departed Canada from age 18 to present. They may be asked to provide documents to substantiate this. Putting together a complete statement of travels, and adequate documentation, can be a significant challenge for older immigrants. For help in making an application, they should contact their local Service Canada office (find your local Service Canada office here, or agencies that help seniors in their community.
The GIS is an additional income-tested monthly benefit paid to those who receive OAS and have little or no other income. Income from OAS is taxable; GIS supplement is not taxable. Older adults must apply to receive GIS – then it will renew each year assuming they file an Income Tax return. Sponsored immigrants are not eligible for GIS during their sponsorship period up to a maximum of 10 years – subject to exceptions. In 2011, 34% of all OAS beneficiaries received some GIS. According to one estimate, OAS and GIS combined make up 36% of the income of seniors. For low-income seniors, it’s between 66% – 75%.
The Allowance is extra money for couples who live on only one OAS/GIS pension, and the spouse is not receiving OAS/GIS as they are between 60-64. If the pensioner spouse dies while the other spouse is still between 60-64, this other spouse might be eligible for the Allowance for the Survivor.
NOTE – If this other spouse remarries or lives in a common- law relationship for at least one year, their Allowance will end.
There are three kinds of benefits available from the Canada Pension Plan:
- Retirement pension;
- Survivor benefits which includes a one-time death benefit (intended for funeral expenses), the Survivor pension and the Children’s Benefit.
- CPP-D – disability benefit which includes benefits for disabled contributors and for their dependent children
Our focus will be on the CPP retirement pension, which provides income to working Canadians after they retire. The amount of CPP pension income they receive depends on the amount they (and their employer – unless self-employed) paid into the fund from their wages over the years they worked in Canada. An older adult can receive CPP pension if they have contributed and:
- they are 60-64 years old and have stopped working or have a low income, or
- they are 65 years or older.
If they start collecting at 60 yrs. – their rate then remains the same after they turn 65. If they work past 65, they can be receiving CPP benefits at the same time. They can also choose to continue paying premiums into CPP up until age 70; this will increase the amount they receive in retirement benefits.
Older adults must apply for CPP pension. CPP benefits are taxable income. CPP pension rights are not affected if they have changed jobs or moved from one province to another. An older adult can apply for and receive their CPP benefits from anywhere in the world.
CPP – Child Rearing Drop-Out Protection
An older adult may qualify for increased benefits if they have contributed to CPP over their working life and they ‘dropped out’ of the labour force to raise children born after December 31, 1958. NOTE – They must request this ‘child-rearing dropout protection’ when they apply for CPP benefits as this is not applied automatically.
Paid to the person who, at the time of death of the CPP pensioner, is the legal spouse or common-law partner of the deceased. If they are a separated legal spouse and there is no cohabiting common-law partner, you still may qualify for this benefit.
The Senior’s Supplement is a monthly payment from the provincial government to low-income seniors who need a “top-up” to bring their OAS, GIS or federal Allowance [see below] incomes up to BC welfare levels. It is automatic if they qualify – they don’t need to apply. The Supplement is also automatically paid to people aged 60 to 64 who receive an Allowance and are married to an OAS pensioner.
Veterans Affairs Canada provides a variety of services and benefits for eligible Veterans, their families and caregivers, both at home and in community facilities. These include disability benefits, financial assistance for low-income Veterans and their families, health care, respite care, palliative care, special equipment, and support for home adaptations for Veterans with special needs. VAC can also help bring together services offered by the community and the province to meet the needs of Veterans, and their families and caregivers. For more information, call Veterans Affairs Canada or visit their web site.
EI & Seniors
Older adults who are still working, or wanting to work, are eligible for EI benefits. They must meet the qualifying and entitlement conditions. The receipt of pension income does not prevent an older adult from receiving EI benefits. If they return to work and accumulate enough insurable hours and meet the entitlement conditions to set up a claim, their pension income may not be deducted from their EI benefits (always check with Service Canada or Canada Revenue Agency about claiming pension income for EI benefits).
If an older adult has lived and worked in another country, they may be eligible for social security benefits, either from that country or from Canada. For information on how to apply for international benefits, contact: International Benefits Program Phone: 1-613-957-1954 Fax: 1-613-952-8901 Toll free: 1-800-454-8731 TTY– 1-800-255-4786
The federal government has developed a website where you can find more information about various benefit programs: CanadaBenefits.gc.ca On this site you will find the “Benefits Finder” – a useful tool for finding various benefit programs that you are entittled to. The benefits finder tool asks you a series of questions, and based on your answers, it suggests various programs you are eligible for. You can find it here: Benefits Finder
Appeals to the Social Security Tribunal
Appeals of denial of OAS, CPP or EI go to the new Social Security Tribunal (SST). In all cases the appellant must have requested a reconsideration from the respective Ministry involved as the first step to any appeal. The possible steps of an appeal are:
Another way to look at this is:
Tribunal members hear appeals in both General and Appeal Divisions by teleconference or videoconference facilities whenever possible. Participation in these ‘virtual’ hearings, and electronic document filing and communications to and from the Tribunal will present a challenge to older adults (and perhaps their advocates!). The website for the tribunal is here: Social Security Tribunal
Guide for SST Appeals
There are three guide books for making an appeal to the SST.
CLAS prepared this guide which explains how to challenge a decision about your CPP or OAS claim. It discusses reconsiderations and how to get a copy of your file, as well as information about appealing to the General Division and the Appeal Division. Finally it provides information about rescinding or amending (re-opening) a decision. You can find this CLAS guide here: Challenging OAS/CPP Decisions
CLAS has also prepared a similar guide for workers who want to challenge a decision about their EI claim. It is not intended to assist employers. It explains what decisions cannot be challenged using the guide. It discusses reconsiderations and how to get a copy of your EI file, as well as information about appealing to the General Division and the Appeal Division. Finally it provides information about rescinding or amending (re-opening) a decision. You can find this CLAS guide here: Challenging EI Decisions
CPP Disability Appeals
The Disability Alliance BC (formerly the BC Coalition of People with Disabilities) has prepared guide for people representing themselves with a Canada Pension Plan Disability appeal to the SST. It is also useful for community workers who help people who are in this situation. The guide includes sections on:
- how to assess the merits of your case,
- the decision making process,
- starting your appeal
- the hearing file
- preparing your case
- your written submission
- at the hearing
- after the hearing
It also includes definitions, and provides tips on using case law. You can get a copy of this Guide from Clicklaw: Social Security Tribunal Guide – CPP Disability Appeals.
It is important that seniors file a income tax return each year, so that they receive all of the government benefits they are entitled to. Various seniors organizations and community centres sponsor income tax clinics, where trained volunteers and accountants prepare simple income tax returns for free. Here are some places to check – call them for dates and times of tax clinics:
- H + R Block [for those on income assistance] 1-800-472-5625
- St. Paul’s– 604-683-4287
- 411 Seniors Centre– 604-684-8171
- Downtown East Education Centre – 604-713-5760
- Gordon Neighbourhood House -604-683-2554
- Kits Neighbourhood House– 604-736-3588
- S.U.C.C.E.S.S.– 604-597-0205
- ISS of BC – 604-684-2561 ext. 1132
- MPA Society – 604-482-3700
- Multicultural Helping House Society – 604-879-3277
- South Granville Seniors Centre – 604-732-0812
- Vancouver Aboriginal Transformative Justice Services Society – 604-251-7200
- Chilliwack District and Seniors Resources- 604-793-9979
- Penticton and Area Womens Centre– male and female- 1-250-493-6822
- BC Coalition Of Persons with Disabilities– 604-872-1278
- Seniors Services Society– New Westminster- 604-520-6621
- Also – check Local Library Branches
Canada Revenue Agency
The Canada Revenue Agency has a page that sets out useful information for seniors about income taxes, about non-resident seniors, and about other taxes and savings programs for seniors (RRSPs at 71; RRIFs, etc.). You can access this page here: Canada Revenue Agency – Seniors