Social Services and ODSP benefits for the Injured and Disabled

March 20th, 2015 by Marc Spivak

I am a personal injury lawyer in Toronto who has represented thousands of injured and disabled persons throughout Ontario for almost 25 years now. In my experience the social system is barbaric and unnecessarily disheartening for those people who have no alternative but to turn to social help to survive.

Typically, injured accident victims move from usually having a productive life that involves work and earning an income, supporting themselves and often a family, to not having money for  rent or food. Faced with no alternative, these injured people who are trying to deal with unimaginable physical and mental hardships often run into a concrete wall of unforgiving bureaucracy.  As I write this one of my clients is in the process of being evicted and Social Assistance has refused benefits because my client’s expenses are too high for rent and to run her car so she can get to medical appointments!  By the time you read this  she may be in a shelter or on the street.

For those that are fortunate enough to get the monthly Social Services benefit, it doesn’t take long to learn that the benefit is several hundred dollars short per month to pay for rent and food. Somehow people who cannot fend for themselves and require social assistance universally end up with less than an amount needed to survive. I understand the financial problems that our government has in creating monthly ceilings and merely point out in frustration that the amount is insufficient to survive on.

For clients on Social Assistance that have an accident or disability claim, Social Assistance has a right of assignment that takes away all recoveries for compensation with a one- time $25,000.00 exemption for pain and suffering. Any person not in a claims situation has no practical obligation to repay any benefits received.  As soon as someone has a claim for compensation as a victim, that person is given less than the uninjured claimant (this is discrimination against disabled persons who have a right of compensation e.g. a person disabled from alcoholism will not need to pay back Social Assistance for benefits received, yet the pedestrian run down by a drunk motorist would). For the government to make a cash grab from victims is objectionable as an advocate for the disabled or  as a taxpayer.

The disabled are usually asked by Social Assistance to apply to ODSP to get them off Social Assistance and into a different program that offers slightly more money. Time is typically of the essence for anybody applying for ODSP.  Despite this, the response takes months (not days or weeks) and but for the most extreme situations result in an initial denial, requiring an appeal and further steps in order to get approved for ODSP assistance. In the interim these people are not able to survive in any humane manner. The delay from application and the blanket refusals that delay or prevent payment of benefits without appropriate grounds must be changed. As Canadians we have an obligation to apply assistance in a humane manner.

ODSP has a right of assignment for reimbursement of all ODSP payments made to the victim with a claim for compensation, with some minor exceptions (a one time $100,000.00 exemption on pain and suffering).  Any person not in a claims situation has no practical obligation to repay ODSP for any benefits received.  Again, as mentioned above, this is discrimination against victims with a right of compensation.

For most people the application for Social Assistance/ODSP is a signal of lost hope and of last alternative. The lifeline they expect often comes with a brick attached to it. The right of assignment for Social Assistance and ODSP benefits is something that should be stopped for those who have accident claims. Always have an experienced personal injury lawyer to help you and your family through this process.

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