News / Canada

Feds look to eliminate old age security enrolment issues for military spouses

OTTAWA — A sweeping review of how Canadians apply for old age security payments is paying particular attention to military spouses amid concerns that they are being wrongfully denied the income support for seniors. 

Federal officials are halfway through a four-year overhaul of how people seek old age security benefits, hoping to automatically enrol as many eligible recipients as possible to avoid delays, confusion and problems that seem to have plagued some military spouses applying for the benefit.

About half of seniors no longer need to apply for their basic old age security pension under the expanded automatic enrolment introduced in October, and the department responsible for the program believes that should mitigate some of the problems military spouses have encountered.

"Depending on the specifics of each case, auto-enrolment may benefit military members and their working spouses," a spokeswoman for Employment and Social Development Canada said in an email.

Old age security is provided to eligible seniors who have spent enough time in Canada during their working life — 10 years if the retiree lives in Canada, 20 years if they retire abroad.

There are provisions in place for military personnel and any accompanying spouses or children to count time abroad as time working in Canada.

Departmental meeting notes from November 2015, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, show that the problem for military spouses was that the onus was on them to prove the dates they were out of the country. Often, complicated cases were not flagged fast enough, leaving requests for necessary documents landing at the eleventh hour and delaying when benefits started to be paid out.

The notes say that there was no ability to receive deployment information from the military, nor could they easily link the serving spouse's information to that of the non-serving spouse.

There were other questions that further complicated the situation, like what to do if the couple was divorced or separated.

The department has started asking military spouses for extra information as soon as their application is received, hoping to give them as much time as possible to obtain the additional documents they require. And in the coming two years, the department overseeing the program says it wants to further simplify requirements for military spouses and phase in changes through to 2019.

Employment and Social Development Canada says it plans to start automatically enrolling seniors for the guaranteed income supplement by the end of year.

— Follow @jpress on Twitter.

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