Step 2: Applying for benefits
Benefits screening

Help fill out benefits applications


Filling out benefits applications can be challenging, especially for those with literacy barriers, or with low confidence or experience. Organizations can offer 1-on-1 support filling out forms, helping participants feel more comfortable with the process.

It takes time and patience to assist community members with their benefit applications, and a moderate to high level of expertise depending on the specific benefit application. You should be prepared to invest time and resources on the following:

  • Staff time is required to get familiar with the benefit forms and what documentation and information is required to complete them. It is also needed to provide people with one-on-one assistance with filling out the forms. Schedule 30-60 minutes per session or integrate into other already scheduled sessions.
  • Marketing and promotion — Create reminders or post notices about key dates that forms are due. This can be done directly to the client via phone, text or email, or on a larger scale through flyers or social media.

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

  • Browse the Benefits wayfinder to find benefits that are relevant to your community. For example, if you primarily serve seniors, click on the “senior / retired person” Starting Point on the main page to find related benefits
  • Review the relevant benefit forms and what is required to apply for each benefit.
  • Familiarize staff with how to fill out the benefit forms; perhaps create sample forms for reference.
  • Have printed copies of the forms available for community members who may not have access to a printer; help with mailing the documents if required
  • Provide technical assistance filling out the forms online for those that may have low digital literacy.
  • Encourage staff to set aside specific appointment time for people who require this assistance.

It may be beneficial to:

  • Reach out to specific benefits owners to learn more about the benefits administration or adjudication process to understand the implications of filing out the form in the broader process.
  • Create FAQ sheets on how to fill out the various benefit forms to support staff and/or community members. See the Examples section for some ideas to get you started.
  • If the deadline for a particular benefit is nearing, consider hosting an information session for community members on how to fill out the form; encourage community members to sign up for a one-on-one session with a staff member if they require additional assistance.
  • Consider having one or two staff members or volunteers within your organization designated as experts in this area to develop expertise and efficiency.

When Community Financial Counselling Services (CFCS) (CFCS) in Winnipeg helps a client fill out a benefit application, they also help access (or copy) all the supporting documentation, such as an Option C/Proof of Income document or required schedules from the tax return. Ideally, they hope to complete the application so they can drop it off to CRA or mail it to the respective benefit program. If supporting virtually, they help to fill out the document online, print it out and mail it to the client with notes on what to do (i.e. a post-it-note where the person needs to sign) and an envelope and postage to make it easy for the individual to mail in.

CFCS has also created a visual demonstration of how to mail a letter in Canada for many of their newcomer clients were not familiar with the Canadian postal system. They have a job aid and mini mailbox with stamps, and they often walk people to the mailbox. Simple yet very effective at reducing outcome barriers!

CFCS has created some useful handouts for staff to guide the benefit application process:

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Crtitical supports you can provide throughout your client's entire journey

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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