Step 1: Learning about benefits

Explain how benefits interact


Sometimes income and social benefit programs can interact with one another to affect a person’s benefit levels and eligibility. For example, some people who received the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) saw their social assistance benefits go down. This can make people hesitant to apply for new benefits.

Your organization can help overcome this barrier by helping clients understand the interactions between benefits, and how getting one benefit may or may not impact another.

This service requires a high degree of expertise as benefits interaction information is not readily available, is complex, and requires both research and working 1-on-1 with community members to understand their unique situation.

You should be prepared with the following:

  • Staff training — It will be important for staff to be trained on potential clawbacks related to common benefits. You may want to reach out to an experienced staff member or an organization from the Help section of the Benefits Wayfinder. You can also engage your community to learn more about clawbacks people have experienced.
  • Staff time — Staff will need designated time to meet one-on-one with community members to assess possible interactions of benefits and to connect with staff of benefits programs to learn more how their program treats clawbacks.
  • Partnerships — It will be useful to have information for local social assistance organizations who can help explain the interaction between benefits and possible conflicts or impacts.

Definition: A claw back of a benefit may occur if a person’s annual net income goes above a certain threshold amount. In the case of government benefits, this threshold would be set by government policy. An example is the Old Age Security clawback that happens if your world net income is great than $81, 761 (for 2022).

Since a high degree of expertise is required, we only recommend providing this support if you already have deep experience in providing other forms of benefits access support.

If this is new to your organization, here are some good ways to get started:

  • Designate a staff person to be the lead to research these possible clawback situations.
  • Share findings with all staff so they are aware of possible conflicts/clawbacks.
  • Gather input from your clients on the types of clawbacks they have encountered in the past.

  • Develop guidance for community members on common benefits interaction situations (e.g., things to avoid applying for if you are already receiving income support). In BC, Ask an Advocate can be a good resource for this kind of information or other benefit related issues.
  • It is also a good idea to develop a relationship with Service Canada to ask questions about potential clawbacks.
  • Host a training session for staff to learn more about how benefits interact and possible conflicts or clawbacks. Include discussion on how to have a conversation about this with community members so they understand the potential impact.
  • Create a guide for staff to refer to when speaking with clients about benefits and how they may interact with each other.
  • Create a handout for clients to explain how these conflicts or clawbacks may arise when applying for benefits.
  • Consider building a centre of expertise with specialized knowledge on a particular topic such as benefits related to seniors, disability etc.

  • In Canada there are three main sources of government-provided retirement income: the Canada/Quebec Pension Plan (C/QPP), Old Age Security (OAS) - which is a fixed amount for most but does include a `clawback' of benefits for high-income individuals - and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), which is designed to help those with extremely low income.
  • The GIS is income-tested, meaning seniors must file their taxes annually and meet a certain income threshold to determine if they are eligible for the GIS benefit. If a retiree earns more income and rises above the GIS eligibility threshold, they could face a clawback of this benefit.
  • Read how Canada’s CERB was clawed back for exposed people
  • Learn more about the impact of making withdrawals from your TFSA

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Best practices

Get practical tools, methods, and advice. Learn from other organizations who are already providing access to benefits services by accessing this collection of their best practices.

Best practices