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Welfare ministry undecided on pursuing overpayment claims

The housing and social development ministry has not yet decided whether to press ahead with cases filed in small claims court against welfare recipients who allegedly owe the government money.

The minister responsible, Rich Coleman, has been unavailable this week for comment. A ministry official provided a background e-mail saying the 317 cases were filed so that the government would be within the statute of limitations should it decide to pursue them.

“The ministry has not served any of these claims on clients, and is currently evaluating next steps,” the statement said. “It’s important that the Province is able to pursue client debts to ensure income assistance goes to British Columbians who are eligible and need it the most.”

In 62 percent of the cases the money owed is for things such as security deposits to rent apartments where the money was advanced with the agreement that it would be repaid, according to the statement. In 35 percent of the cases the overpayments were made in situations caused by the client, such as not reporting income.

In less than three percent of the cases were the overpayments made because of ministry errors, it said.

Lawyers working for the British Columbia Public Interest Advocacy Centre wrote to Coleman, the Tyee reported, criticizing the government's filing of “cookie cutter” claims and requesting the ministry's cooperation in helping them get legal information to the defendants.

The ministry had not responded by publishing time to a list of questions about how it will respond to BCPIAC's letter.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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