Don’t miss out on government benefits
Question: Can I find details of federal and provincial government programs easily?
Answer: Yes, check out the Canada Benefits website, http://www.canadabenefits.gc.ca. It’s run by the federal government, but includes links to provincial programs.
You can navigate the site several ways. You can identify yourself (“I am: A senior…”), cruise the A-to-Z benefits index for programs, or search for key words.
Try the Benefits Finder, a neat method of seeing what you may be entitled to get. Just give your province and answer a few questions about yourself. Out pops a list of programs in different categories.
You can get information on federal retirement programs such as Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (which a lot of seniors miss). And you’ll discover how to apply for international pension benefits, if you have lived or worked in another country.
Question: How can I find out more about CPP, OAS and GIS?
Answer: Social Developments Canada (<a href="http://www.dc.gc.c/”>http://www.sdc.gc.ca) is responsible for administering these programs. Call 1-800-277-9914 for information and application forms. If you don’t apply promptly, your benefits will be paid retroactively for a maximum of only 11 months.
You can apply for the CPP retirement pension online. You must be at least 60 years old, but your pension will be reduced if you take it earlier than age 65. While you must have stopped working at the time your pension begins, you can start working again later.
Old Age Security is paid once you turn 65. You should apply six months before that date. You can print forms at the SDC website, but you must mail the application and the required documents.
The Guaranteed Income Supplement provides extra money to low-income seniors. You must be entitled to Old Age Security to qualify. You have to apply (call 1-800-277-9914), and then you can renew your GIS each year by filing your income tax return by April 30.
Question: Where can I get help in applying for benefits?
Answer: Accountants or financial advisers may have expertise in filling out application forms. And if you’re a low-income applicant with literacy problems, you might want to talk to a social worker or local community group.
The Retirement Planning Institute specializes in CPP audits. The cost is $50 for an audit, plus 20 per cent of any retroactive payment. (CARP members pay $42.50 plus 15 per cent of the amount recovered.) For information, go to http://www.rpi-ipr.com or call 613-749-0009 in Ottawa.
DetectaPension helps recover government pensions (OAS and GIS, but not CPP) or those from a private company. The cost is $50 plus 25 per cent of any new monthly amount for up to one year, or 15 per cent of a lump-sum payment, whichever is greater. Go to http://www.detectapension.com or call 1-866-846-4957.
The results achieved by these services are impressive. The Retirement Planning Institute has found as many as one in six household CPP accounts have errors, while DetectaPension says one in five eligible seniors is missing out on full OAS benefits.
Governments need to help seniors get what they deserve. It’s time to simplify the application process, improve staff training and develop a verification process to follow up with incomplete applications. Let’s support CARP in its lobbying to achieve these goals.
Ellen Roseman is a business columnist for the Toronto Star and well-known financial author. She hosts a weekly TV show, It’s Your Money, on the iChannel digital network. You can reach her at [email protected].