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Government delays cost 900 people in B.C. their entitled benefits: ombudsperson

Some of British Columbia's most vulnerable people suffered longer than needed because the government routinely missed its legislated deadlines to provide help, the provincial ombudsperson concluded in a report released Tuesday.

Kim Carter's report, "Time Matters: An Investigation Into The B.C. Employment and Assistance Reconsideration Process," said more than 900 people lost the benefits they were entitled to receive because the government couldn't hit legislated time targets of 20 business days.

Carter says the delays started in 2009 and resulted in the Social Development and Social Innovation Ministry paying those clients $350,000 in entitled benefits.

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"For income assistance applicants, we expect them to do things in a timely manner or they lose out," Carter said in an interview. "The same thing applies, really, to the ministry as well."

The 40-page report includes reviews of the delays people endured while waiting for government help.

One person waited 36 business days for the government to determine their need for the monthly nutritional supplement Ensure. The liquid nutritional supplement is intended to "prevent imminent danger to the person's life by providing essential, specified items to supplement their regular nutritional needs," the report stated.

Another person waited 54 days for government approval to pay for dental work.

"Missing teeth, a partial denture or a full denture can affect not only a person's nutritional and dental health, but may also negatively affect that person's psychological well-being," said the report.

Carter said the ministry has agreed to improve the way it tracks and administers requests for client benefits. The ministry has also agreed to retroactively pay benefits to people who endured delays.

Previously, the benefit payments started when approval was granted, no matter how long the delay.

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Carter's report makes three findings and four recommendations, including that "the ministry take necessary steps to ensure that its systems are able to accurately track reconsideration requests and compliance with time limits based on date of submission."

She said the delays started when the government centralized much of its operations in Victoria in 2009. Social Development Minister Don McRae could not be immediately reached for comment, but his deputy minister sent Carter a letter last November stating the ministry accepts the recommendations in her report.

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