On April 1, 2013, the federal government launched the new Social Security Tribunal, which aims to simplify the process of appealing government decisions related to benefits under the Employment Insurance Act, Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security Act.
This initiative was created through the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act, which received royal assent on June 29, 2012. The Act amended Part 5 of the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act to establish the Social Security Tribunal (SST). The SST is an administrative tribunal with quasi-judicial powers that provides an independent appeal process and replaces the four separate tribunals that currently hear social security appeals:
- The Board of Referees: Employment Insurance (EI) client first level of appeal
- The Employment Insurance Umpires: EI client second level of appeal
- The Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security Review Tribunals: Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Old Age Security (OAS) client first level of appeal
- The Pension Appeals Board (PAB): CPP client second level of appeal
The SST will be made up of of a maximum of 74 full-time members (decision-makers on appeals) appointed by the governor-in-council, including leadership from one chairperson and three vice-chairpersons. Part-time and full-time members with relevant legal and medical expertise may also be appointed if the workload requires it.
The SST will consist of two levels of appeal: a general division and an appeal division. For the first level of appeal, the general division, a vice-chairperson heads each of the EI and income security (CPP and OAS) sections. The third vice-chairperson heads the appeal division, which is the second level of appeal. The appeal division decides appeals of decisions made by the general division.
To effectively manage the transfer of all appeals to the SST, the first year will be a transition period. During this time, the SST will hear all new appeals for EI, CPP and OAS filed on or after April 1, 2013, while the four tribunals finalize cases already in their systems. These decisions must be issued no later than March 31, 2014, with all remaining appeals transferred to the SST. The board of referees will hear and render decisions on all appeals filed before April 1, 2013. These decisions must be issued no later than October 31, 2013.
Both the general division and the appeal division have the power to reconsider their own final decisions upon application, should new facts come to light that could not have been known prior to the hearing or the decision. This can be done once within one year of the decision being rendered.
As an additional measure to further improve efficiencies for EI decisions, an enhanced reconsideration process is being introduced. This process, which already existed for CPP and OAS appeals, will now allow EI appellants to submit new or additional information to the EI Commission before filing an appeal with the SST.
To date, Murielle Brazeau was appointed to the role of chairperson of the SST along with 34 full-time members. Members are being appointed from all regions of the country to ensure fairness and regional distribution.
Critics aren’t impressed. With respect to employment insurance problems, for instance, the former system had 700 part-time referees to hear appeals. Under the new system, 39 of the 74 full-time members of the social security tribunal will be dedicated to employment insurance appeals. This change may make the process simpler, but some are questioning how it will improve efficiency.
The Globe and Mail reported in December that Human Resources and Skills Development Canada hopes the new “single-window decision body” will “make faster decisions and resolve appeals by eliminating an overlap in administrative processes.” Moreover, “the new process will mean less time is spent appointing, training and convening panels of part-time members.”
The tribunal does have the power to hire temporary full- and part-time members to address its workload, so perhaps we will see a lot of extra members in the early days of the tribunal. However, hiring additional members seems to eliminate at least one of the supposed advantages of the new system, as they will need to be appointed and trained.
Hopefully, now that the new tribunal is taking cases, we’ll have an update in the near future on the tribunal’s effectiveness.