Independent media needs you. Join the Tyee.


The Hook: Political news, freshly caught

Problems with government phone line amount to 'negligence': advocate

A change to the housing and social development ministry's phone system has made it even harder to get help, said Renée Ahmadi, an advocate with the Action Committee of People with Disabilities.

“The word negligent comes to mind,” said Ahmadi, who at any time works with some 30 people who need assistance getting help from the ministry that administers the welfare system and support for people with disabilities. “Why is it the state can be negligent of the most vulnerable people? It just doesn't sit well with me.”

Last January Ahmadi told The Tyee that whenever she left a message through the ministry's toll-free, province-wide phone system, it was taking at least four days to hear back from anyone.

Now, she said, the ministry has changed the system so it is impossible to leave a message. Instead the system hangs up on the caller if there's nobody there to answer, she said.

Nobody from the ministry was available for an interview, but a spokesperson provided a statement saying “the telephone system is monitored on an ongoing basis to ensure the number is functioning appropriately.”

The average wait time on the phone is seven to 10 minutes, the statement said, though the waits may be longer at peak times such as on or near the days when the ministry issues cheques. The times with the lowest call volumes are before 10 a.m. and between 3-4 p.m. on weekdays, and calls are answered in the order they arrive, it said.

The ministry also has 93 offices around the province where people can get service in person, the statement said.

Ahmadi said the phone system was supposed to be a cheaper way for the ministry to provide help and if it worked well many people with disabilities would prefer it to traveling to an office, where there are also often long lines. “It's inaccessible either way you look at it.”

She added that she doesn't believe the ministry knows how many people get cut off through the phone line without reaching a person and that the lousy service may be discouraging people in need from getting help. “It can't get much worse,” she said. “It's an access issue . . . It's a discrete, backhanded way of getting people off the [welfare] system.”

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

What have we missed? What do you think? We want to know. Comment below. Keep in mind:


  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Connect with each other

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, flag suspect activity.
comments powered by Disqus