By Bob Wood
Our clinic provides a variety of services including legal advice and legal representation.
One area that is a busy part of our practice is appeals of the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). ODSP is one of two social assistance programs provided in Ontario.
We were recently involved at the Social Benefits Tribunal (SBT) where our client had appealed the decision of an ODSP Manager.
The final decision of the SBT in the case is helpful for individuals on social assistance who are not accessing their full shelter allowance.
Here is what happened.
Our client, let’s call her Jane, had lived in the same housing unit for 21 years.
The Fire Department had determined that clutter in Jane’s unit was a fire risk for her and her neigbours. An order was issued.
However, Jane was not physically able to de-clutter because of her disabilities. She didn’t have the money to get someone to help her de-clutter either.
Having exhausted all potential funding sources, Jane asked ODSP to provide additional shelter funds. That request was denied. The ODSP manager’s rationale was that the legislation does not support assistance with the cost of personal housekeeping in client’s homes.
Our client then entered into consent agreement with her landlord. The landlord agreed to pay upfront costs of $3,550 for decluttering work. Jane was required to pay back $1,300 of this amount. This is a significant cost for someone on assistance to come up with.
Clinic lawyer Sharon Crowe told the SBT hearing of a similar case involving flood damage. In that case, the hearing officer had said that decisions by ODSP for additional support must be made in keeping with the intent of the legislation. That intent is to prevent ODSP recipients from losing their homes.
In Janes’s case, the Tribunal found that the ODSP Director had applied the legislation too narrowly and strictly and did not take into account that Jane was in danger of becoming homeless.
Our client’s appeal for additional shelter allowance funding was granted. That was good news for our client.
But what’s the broader significance of this ruling?
“The Tribunal made a clear finding that shelter is more than just rent and utilities,” says Sharon Crowe.
“It can and should be expanded to cover additional expenses that are necessary in order to maintain and preserve housing.”
In fact, a directive issued many years ago by the province was quite clear.
The spirit of the legislation is to ensure clients receive all the benefits to which they are entitled. Regulations and policies should be interpreted broadly.
Call the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic (905-527-4572) if you are in a similar situation and think you are not getting the benefits to which you are entitled.
Bob Wood is a Community Worker at the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic