4,000 households cut off of housing supplement before application process closed

Members of the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry (RAPM) started noticing around December 2017 more people than usual coming to see them because they had been cut off of the province’s Rental Housing Supplement (SRHS). Then, in April 2018, it was announced that the rental housing application process would be closed on July 1, 2018. Those on the supplement could remain on the program, but there would be no new applications accepted. RAPM continued to notice high numbers of people being cut off the program, so in June they submitted an access to information request to find out just how many people had been expelled from the program.

The Ministry of Social Services responded in November, in a document obtained by the Sask Dispatch, that “approximately 4,000 cases were closed between December 1, 2017 and May 31, 2018.” Unless those 4,000 people who had been cut off appealed the decision before July 1, they would never be eligible to receive the supplement again.

The Ministry indicated to the Sask Dispatch by email that from April 2017 through March 2018 there had been on average 13,492 households on the supplement. The number fluctuated from around 13,000 to 14,000 households during that period.

RAPM would help people who had been cut off to appeal the decision – sometimes successfully, sometimes not. “People who didn’t come to us, I don’t know what happened to them,” says Peter Gilmer of RAPM.

The Ministry says that as of December 2018, there were 12,140 households receiving the rental supplement. That represents a decrease of 1,352 households, or 10 per cent, from the average for the previous year.

“People who didn’t come to us, I don’t know what happened to them.”

When asked whether there had been any directive leading to the 4,000-household cut, the Ministry responded that, “No policy or program changed [sic] occurred during this period of time and no one was removed from the program unless they became ineligible to receive SRHS. Clients currently receiving SRHS supports will continue to receive these benefits for as long as they remain eligible.”

Danny Robilliard was cut off of the program in November 2017 after being on it for years. Robilliard says he had been diligently reporting his income from a part-time job. “Then in November [2017] I received a call asking questions I had never been asked before.” He was then cut off. “They didn’t give me a reason, just that I didn’t qualify.”

Wait times on Social Services’ phone lines were also revealed through RAPM’s access to information request. Phone is the main way to apply for the rental supplement, as well as the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID), and other assistance programs. For the rental supplement, wait times were regularly over 20 minutes, and at times averaged over 40 minutes. The bounce rate (people dropping off the line) was 17 per cent for the rental supplement line and 27 per cent for the SAID line for the period March through May 2018.

By comparison, banks in the U.S. average around 42 seconds wait time, with many calls never going on hold.

Asked about the wait times and whether more resources have been allocated to the phone lines, a Ministry spokesperson responds, “The Ministry is often challenged with higher than usual call volumes, resulting in longer wait times in some cases.” They go on to say that “we have added additional staff during peak call times, cross-trained staff in multiple programs and invested in technology to enhance call handling. This includes a ‘call back’ option that allows clients to hang up without losing their place in the queue, rather than waiting on hold.”

Asked how things are going without the rental supplement, which he can no longer apply for, Robilliard responds, “I’m just scraping by right now.”