B.C. Ombudsperson Jay Chalke (B.C. government)

B.C. income assistance clients left on hold

Ombudsperson says some improvements being made

Disability and income assistance clients are getting better phone service than a year ago, but too many are still being left without answers to their problems, B.C. Ombudsperson Jay Chalke says.

Chalke issued a report Tuesday listing some of the many complaints from people who either were kept on hold for an hour or more, or asked for a call-back and didn’t receive one. The complaints range from application s for assistance to lost payments to emergencies such as a woman who was living with her two children in a camper whose heater had broken down.

“The [social development] ministry’s telephone-based service has been chronically slow for a number of years,” Chalke said. “Income and disability assistance applicants and recipients include some of the most vulnerable people in the province.”

Chalke began investigating the problem in 2017, based on a series of contacts to his office from people frustrated with the lack of service. He said the ministry has agreed to changes, including posting its average wait times for phone and in-person service in ministry offices later this year.

Recommendations also include hiring additional employment and assistance workers to ensure 220 full-time staff are dedicated to answering calls to the centralized provincial phone line.

Chalke also recommends the ministry end its “call sweeping” strategy, which postpones action on requests that are expected to take more than five minutes to resolve.

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