Disabled accident victims who are in receipt of ODSP benefits will no longer have to worry about income support clawbacks after changes to the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), says Ottawa personal injury lawyer Najma Rashid.
Before this month, individuals receiving ODSP benefits would have to declare compensation awards for pain and suffering worth more than $100,000, as the province counted any amount above that as an “asset” under the program.
But on Aug. 1, the provincial government enacted changes to the program that removed the $100,000 cap on exempted court-awarded damages.
“It’s great news for ODSP recipients that compensation awards for pain and suffering will no longer be considered assets for the purposes of the program,” Rashid, a partner with Howard Yegendorf & Associates, tells AdvocateDaily.com.
“It’s reassuring to know that they can receive more than $100,000 without affecting their benefit payments,” she adds.
The ODSP provides income assistance to people who can’t work due to illness or disability, but is only open to individuals who own assets below a certain level.
Under the old rules, Rashid says a large personal injury award for an ODSP recipient could take them over the threshold, potentially reducing their entitlement or forcing them to hand back benefits already paid.
Setting the exemption at $100,000 proved particularly problematic for catastrophically injured accident victims, Rashid explains, because their damages are typically well in excess of that amount.
Program administrators were also able to apply further pre-approved exemptions for funds used to cover certain costs, as long as the recipient could show they were related to their disability, but that still made it “very challenging for those of us who represent litigants on ODSP,” Rashid says.
In addition to pain and suffering compensation, the recent amendments to the program also exempt awards for loss of care, guidance and companionship under section 61 of Ontario’s Family Law Act, as well as those for non-economic loss under the province’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Act and the Workers’ Compensation Act.
“Our government wants to make sure those who receive social assistance and have, unfortunately, experienced loss or injury, are able to fully utilize the compensation award they’ve received. These improvements will help ensure vulnerable individuals and families have the flexibility to use their awards in a way which best meets their needs,” Helena Jaczek, Ontario’s minister of community and social services said in a statement unveiling the changes.