May 23, 2017

Social assistance: the Department cannot require use of an attorney for support payment applications


The complaint

Maillet et tirelire

A social-assistance recipient was entitled to support payments from his ex-spouse, among other things. He wanted to settle the situation with the help of a mediator. The Ministère du Travail, de l’Emploi et de la Solidarité sociale (Department) wanted to oblige him to use an attorney. He filed a complaint with the Québec Ombudsman.

The investigation

  • The citizen wanted to use a mediator to determine the support payment amount and the amounts for the other sharable property and assets in the context of his divorce.
  • The support amount from his ex-spouse could have lowered his benefits and made him ineligible for social assistance.
  • The Department asked the citizen to prove that he had an attorney.
  • During the investigation, the Québec Ombudsman learned from an employee that the Department systematically instructs recipients to have an attorney for exercising their rights in the context of their divorce.
  • The employee said that this was the rule.
  • There is no such obligation in the Individual and Family Assistance Act or the Regulation.
  • The Department should have therefore allowed the citizen to choose either an attorney or a mediator.

The result

Further to the Québec Ombudsman’s intervention, the man was allowed to choose either an attorney or a mediator for the divorce process. Furthermore, the Québec Ombudsman asked the Department to give social assistance recipients the freedom to choose a mediator instead of an attorney in exercising their rights in the context of their divorce. The Department agreed to remind all the employees concerned.