What is it like to be on Welfare in British Columbia?

Application requirements for a single adult:

  • Two previous years in a row earning income of at least $7,000 per year.1
  • No more than $2,000 in cash, including RRSP (you’ll have to use up your RRSP before you apply). You cannot refuse to accept assets, income, or other means of support. You cannot dispose of any asset for less than its worth. If the amount is more than $2,000 the Ministry may reduce or cut off your benefits.2
  • You are allowed to own a car of up to $10,000 in worth. If your car is more valuable, the Ministry will instruct you to sell it and live off that money before you can apply for assistance.2
  • There’s a five weeks wait time, during which you need to conduct a documented work search (with some exceptions in case of emergency).3
  • An eligibility interview. You’ll need to provide documents on your assets and bills including bank statements for all your bank accounts for the last two months.4
  • Provide data on where you live and who you live with. Spouses who live together must qualify for social assistance as a couple. The Ministry’s definition of a couple is different than the Canadian law definition of common laws – three months of living together suffices.5
  • Sign a consent form to allow the ministry to check the information you have provided in your application.6
  • You may be referred to an investigative officer, who will want more information from you to verify the data you provided in the eligibility interview.7

Requirements while on assistance:

  • Actively look for, and accept work. Submit an employment plan, developed with and reviewed by an employment assistance worker. Participate in employment programs. If you refuse a job offer that the Ministry thinks is suitable for you, you’ll lose your benefits for two months.8
  • Submit a monthly report, detailing any changes in your income and living arrangement.9

What you get (single adult):

  • $610 a month, not indexed to inflation. The rate hasn’t changed for 9 years now (since 2007).10
  • $200 of earning exemption (you can earn $200 a month and your welfare won’t decrease. If you earn more, your welfare will decrease dollar for dollar. That means that if you earn $200, $810, or anything in between, you end up with the same amount of money. Also, if your partner gives you money regularly, that money is income).11 If you earn $820 or more per month for two consecutive months (6 months if you’re homeless), your case will be closed. If that income source dries out, a new application process is required, including the work search wait period.12
  • Optical Coverage (Up to $48.90 for routine eye exams once every two years, and glasses/lenses).
  • Emergency dental services to relieve pain.
  • Dentures, if you had your complete upper and/or lower teeth removed in the previous six months to relieve pain.

References on the BC Government site:
1 Two-Year Financial Independence
2 Assets & Exemptions
3 Work Search
4 Eligibility Interview
5 “When two persons (over 19 and excluding dependent children) live together and there is no acknowledgement that a dependency, spousal, or marriage-like relationship exists, staff must assess the nature of the relationship to determine if a marriage-like relationship exists.” Family Composition
If the social assistance office thinks you live with someone who is your spouse, neither one of you will be able to get assistance as a single person or as a single parent. The amount of assistance you get as a couple is less than what you would get as two single people. You must let the Ministry know when someone moves in with you. Three months later, the Ministry will set up a meeting with you to determine whether your flatmate is your spouse. You may be forced to choose between financial independence and your relationship.
6 Information & Verification
7 The welfare system introduces strong incentives for fraud regarding declaring assets and income, and family composition. To combat such fraud, the Ministry allocates resources for surveillance and sanctions.
Referral for PLMS (Prevention and Loss Management Services Branch) Review or Investigation
8 Sanctions
9 Monthly Reporting Requirements
10 Income Assistance Rate Table
11 Income Treatment & Exemptions, under ‘Earning Exemption’
12 Individual Case Management, under ‘Case Closure’

Further reading:
Welfare rules forcing people into destitution (2012)
The service is not great. Access to Welfare (video)
‘Temporary’ Vancouver Food Bank hits 30 years of service (2012)
BC MLAs Join Top 10 Per Cent with Average Pay of $123,000 (2016)
Good Poor, Bad Poor. The New York Times (2013)
Welfare in Canada 2013 by the Caledon Institute of Social Policy

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