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Ontario Works says I have an overpayment. What can I do?

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Ontario Works says I have an overpayment. What can I do?

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Reviewed: 
March, 2017
Answer

Ontario Works (OW) will say you have an overpayment if they think that you got more social assistance than you should have.

This could be money from OW or from the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).

This means that when you’re getting financial assistance from OW, they can collect an overpayment that happened because:

  • you used to get income support from ODSP, and
  • ODSP paid you more than they should have.

Paying the money back

OW will want the money back.

If you’re getting financial assistance from OW, they’ll try to get the money back by reducing the amount they give you.

If you’re no longer getting assistance, OW will send you a letter and ask you to pay back the money. If you don’t pay it, there may be things they can do to collect the overpayment. See Step 2.

Getting help

Overpayments happen for many reasons. See Step 1. What you can do depends on your situation.

For example, you may be able to appeal a decision about an overpayment to the Social Benefits Tribunal.

But it’s important to get legal advice to help you decide what to do.

Next steps

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When Ontario Works (OW) says that you have an overpayment, make sure to ask them for details in writing. OW should give you a letter saying:

  • why they think you have an overpayment
  • what you can do if you don’t agree with their decision

OW should not collect an overpayment from you unless they can prove:

  • why there’s an overpayment
  • the amount of the overpayment

The overpayment could be money you got from OW or from the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).

Why overpayments happen

Overpayments can happen for many reasons. For example:

  • You had income or assets that you didn’t report.
  • Something changed in your life and you didn’t report it. For example, you started to pay less for your housing or someone moved in with you.
  • You got interim assistance and did not win your appeal to the Social Benefits Tribunal.
  • You didn’t follow the agreement you made to pay back social assistance that you got while waiting for other benefits, like Employment Insurance.
  • OW or ODSP made a mistake and gave you more money than they were supposed to.
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Ontario Works (OW) will want to collect the overpayment.

If you’re getting financial assistance

OW can reduce the amount of financial assistance you get each month.

Usually, when someone has an overpayment OW reduces their assistance by 5% each month, until they’ve paid back what they owe. This means that if you usually get $700 each month, OW would give you $35 less or $665.

For OW to reduce your assistance by more than 10%, you have to agree. For example, if you usually get $700 each month, taking off 15% would mean you get $105 less or $595.

Some people agree to have their assistance reduced by more than 10% because they want to pay back the money as fast as they can.

If you’re no longer getting financial assistance

OW will ask you to pay back the money if the overpayment is because of financial assistance they gave you. They may ask you to agree to pay it back over time, for example, a certain amount each month.

They might ask a collection agency to try to get you to pay the money back.

OW may be able to use a court process to collect the overpayment. This could mean they’d be able to use something like garnishment to get money from you. But they don’t usually do this.

If the overpayment happened when you were getting OW assistance from Toronto Employment & Social Services, OW can ask the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to collect the overpayment. The CRA does this by taking it out of money that they owe you, for example, your income tax refund.

OW can decide not to do anything

OW can decide that they’re not going to try to collect the overpayment. But this hardly ever happens.

Sometimes OW decides to wait and collect the overpayment later on. 

Waiting to collect an overpayment

Here are some reasons why OW might wait to collect an overpayment:

  • You owe child or spousal support. And over 10% of your financial assistance is already being taken off and sent to the Family Responsibility Office to pay the support that you owe.
  • You didn’t agree with OW’s decision about the overpayment and are waiting for the OW office to do an internal review or for the Social Benefits Tribunal to decide about your appeal.
  • The police charged you with fraud because of the overpayment and you’re waiting for the court to make a decision.
  • Making you pay back the money would be unfair or cause you hardship. For examples, see the section in Step 3 called Why you might not have to pay back an overpayment.

Getting more information and help

To find out what OW might do to try to collect an overpayment from you, you may want to get more information and advice.

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If Ontario Works (OW) says they want to collect an overpayment from you, it’s important to get legal advice to help you decide what to do.

The overpayment could be money you got from OW or from the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).

Internal reviews and appeals to the Social Benefits Tribunal

If you don’t agree with what OW says about an overpayment, you can ask OW to do an internal review.

If you don’t agree with the internal review decision, you may be able to appeal to the Social Benefits Tribunal (SBT). But you must ask for the internal review before you can appeal to the SBT.

What you can ask for

When you ask OW for an internal review or make an appeal to the SBT, you can ask them to decide that:

  • there’s no overpayment because you had a right to the assistance that you got
  • the amount of the overpayment is less than what OW says
  • OW should take a smaller amount from your financial assistance each month while they collect the overpayment
  • you should not have to pay back the full amount of the overpayment
  • you should not have to pay back the money at all
  • you should not have to pay back the money right now

Why you might not have to pay back an overpayment

Most of the time, people have to pay back money that they got because of an overpayment.

But sometimes it’s not fair for OW to make someone pay all or any of it back. And sometimes it would cause the person too much hardship.

Each person’s case is different. So what happens depends on your situation and the reasons for the overpayment.

Here are some examples of things that could affect a decision about whether you have to pay back any or all of an overpayment:

  • Did OW or ODSP pay you too much by mistake and it wasn’t your fault?
  • Did you know there was an overpayment and try to report it?
  • Did you understand what information you had to report?  Did you always give true and complete information about your situation?
  • Did someone from OW or ODSP give you wrong information or not answer your questions about what information they needed from you?
  • Do you have a disability that makes it difficult for you to understand the rules about what information you have to give when you’re on assistance?
  • Did the overpayment happen while you were living with a spouse? Did you know about it?
  • If you have to pay back the money, will you have so little left that it will be harmful to your health and well-being?
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If Ontario Works (OW) says you owe them money, it’s important to get legal help as soon as possible.

You can contact a community legal clinic.

Appealing OW’s decision

You may be able to appeal the decision about an overpayment to the Social Benefits Tribunal.

But first you must ask OW for an internal review of their decision. And you must do this within 30 days from the date you got the decision.

If you miss the deadline, you can still ask for an internal review. Do this as soon as you can.

Explain why your request is late and ask for more time. If you can show that you have a good reason, you might still get an internal review.

Getting advice about your options

It’s important to get legal advice about:

Getting help from a criminal lawyer

If OW thinks you’re guilty of fraud and asks the police to look into this, talk to a criminal lawyer right away.

Learn more about this topic
CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario/Éducation juridique communautaire Ontario)
CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario/Éducation juridique communautaire Ontario)

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