Rental Subsidy Explained

It often falls to the Office of the Ombudsman to try to explain what may seem like a confusing government regulation or funding formula to a complainant. Or, more usefully, to persuade an administrator of a particular program to explain it to a complainant in a non-judgmental way.

A retiree complained to the Ombudsman that a rental subsidy they received from a provincial housing agency was being reduced annually by a matching “claw-back” as their Canada Pension, Old Age Security, and Guaranteed Income Supplement incomes crept up, driven by cost of living escalators.

The Complainant did their own calculations and concluded that the alleged claw-back exceeded the income increase and that they were “growing poorer” each year as a result.

In fact, the complainant’s fears were unfounded.

The problem in the case was that the complainant’s initial contact with the housing agency had resulted in reciprocal accusations of rude behavior, with the complainant claiming the explanation offered made no sense and the respondent suggesting the complainant could not understand the formula.

The complainant had reported that an official at the housing authority had stated that the formula meant that as the income goes up the supplement comes down by the same amount.

The formula does not work that way. The same housing official explained that in the complainant’s particular income category, they are expected to pay 30 per cent of their gross income for housing. The individual is responsible for having their income from federal sources confirmed annually by a letter from Service Canada. The authority then requires that 30 per cent of it go to rent. If the monthly rent exceeds that amount, the difference between the 30 per cent the rental rate becomes the supplement.

An Ombudsman Representative explained the application of the formula to the complainant, noting their increase in income over three years and comparing it to the decrease in their rental supplement.  The complainant had made a slight gain in gross monthly income each year, around $25.00 a month for the most recent year under review.

The complainant appeared to understand the process and was satisfied to hear the result.

To address the apparent communications issue, the respondent official agreed to contact the complainant directly and to provide their income/rental supplement record in writing.