Mentally Ill, Can’t Work, Get Canadian Disability Benefits CPP


Canadians living in and outside of Canada can apply for Canada Pension Plan (CPP) disability financial support, with the right qualifications, patience, and plenty of perseverance. I spoke with Allison Schmidt of the Disability Claims Advocacy Clinic, a fee-based disability advocate in Saskatchewan.

MIB: Who qualifies for CPP and what qualifications are needed?

AS: You have to have paid into CPP for four of the last six years. If you haven’t made enough contributions, you can go back in time for enough contributions, which is called a “late application.” You have to have a mental or physical illness that is severe and prolonged, that makes you incapable of regularly pursuing any substantial gainful occupation.

MIB: Can children under 18 get disability?

AS: An individual with a disability lives below the poverty line, so the kids may need extra help to assist in raising them.

MIB: What about if the child is over 18 and going to university?

AS: If a contributor is on disability, their child who is a student, 18 to 25, is eligible for disability payments. The payment stops unless the child is in full-time school.

MIB: What about if a person is 18 and has never had a job, therefore hasn’t paid into CPP, yet is disabled?

AS: The person is not eligible at all. The government sees it as, if the person is 18, that person should be able to be self-supporting.

MIB: How long does it take to get CPP disability benefits?

AS: It can take up to two years. If a person is approved the first time round, it takes about six months.

MIB: Where do you get the application forms?

AS: Call 800-277-9914

MIB: What documentation does CPP need?

AS: They need proof of birth, like a birth certificate or a baptismal certificate…[and others]

MIB: Is there an interview?

AS: There is an interview if you want help completing the forms. They do not usually contact you until they’re actually adjudicating the file. Then, they’ll call and ask for clarification or other information.

MIB: What percentage of people get rejected on the first try?

AS: According to a 2003 figure, it’s close to 60%

MIB: What is the next step if your application gets rejected?

AS: Some give up, which is very unfortunate. You can contact your MP’s office, and you can get appeal and application guides on internet.

MIB: For the appeal, what do you file, who do you file to, and what happens?

AS: You submit to a review tribunal. The tribunals are held by an independent body set up to hear appeals for the CPP; it’s the Office of the Commissioner of the Review Tribunal. It is government per se, but it’s not CPP. It’s a board of individuals who sit independently and listen to both sides. They are looking at for the first time; what came before is not valid. It’s not adversarial. The person who appeals becomes the appellant and the CPP is the respondent. You can use an advocate, because it can be nerve wracking and intimidating, if you do not know the full letter of the legislation.

MIB: What if the appeal is rejected? Then what?

AS: The next level of appeal takes two to four years.

MIB: What does the person do for money while waiting?

AS: They apply for social assistance if the spouse or partner does not earn an income. If the spouse does have an income, they use up savings, or borrow from family. If they have assets such as a car or money in the bank, they don’t qualify for social assistance.

MIB: If the person is approved for disability benefits, how much does the person get?

AS: The minimum is $490. The percentage of contributions over the years is assessed, so they get $490 to $900, depending on earnings they have had.

MIB: Are medications paid by disability?

AS: They are not paid by the federal government. Some provinces top up the federal benefit or sometimes award prescription help as well.

MIB: Is this taxable income?

AS: Yes.

MIB: Where can a person get help?

AS: You can hire a pay-by-fee advocate. Some non-profits do advocacy informally; I believe the MS or Diabetes organizations have information kits.

MIB: What else do you want people to know?

AS: If someone has say, mental illness, and continued to try and return to work, sometimes this is used against the client. The government says, “Therefore you can work since you can do sporadic work.” But, sporadic work supports a claim, because, the government will say, “You haven’t tried to do any work, so how do you know if you’re disabled?” It’s used as a double-edged sword. Contact someone with experience working as an advocate. It’s a numbers game, so appeal.

I suggest when I have observed other government over the years, when appeals go higher up, they’re more difficult to win, like a triangle pointing upwards. But with CPP, the triangle points the other way down, so you actually have more success with appeals. The more you stick it out, the higher up you go, so you’re dealing with far more reasonable individuals. Don’t give up when being denied.

To Apply for DisabilityPrint online form at or call 800-277-9914

An Advocacy Primer for Persons with Disabilities

PovNet Page of Links and Resources

Information About Appealing A Decision To A Review Tribunal

Office of the Commissioner of Review Tribunals

Has more information about the appeal process, including:

  • Forms and applications.
  • A glossary explaining terms used in the appeal process.
  • Links to sites that offer more information on legislation and Canada’s public pensions and benefits.
  • News bulletins and informational updates.

Call to start a review tribunal appeal at 1-800-363-0076 – free of charge in Canada(outside of Canada, call collect 613-946-0320) 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern Time

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Author: Piyawut Sutthiruk

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