Self-employment business travel rate also going up this month
Major progress has been made on improving supports for people on social assistance to get to medical treatment.
The Ministry of Community and Social Services has just announced an increase in the medical travel mileage rate to pay for the costs people on social assistance have when travelling by car to their medical treatments. The rate is going up from 18 cents per kilometre, or 18.5 cents in the North and North East, to 40 cents per kilometre, or 41 cents in the North / North East. This applies to both ODSP and Ontario Works.
The Ministry is also applying this new rate to agency drivers who take people to medical treatments, where there is no already-established fee. This will also better support the ability of people on social assistance to get to their medical treatments.
These increases will apply as of October 1, 2016. We have been told by the Ministry that staff will be working to apply the new rates retroactively, which will mean recipients won’t have to apply for retroactive payments, and that retroactive payments will not be subject to clawback. More information about this should be available on the Ministry’s website soon.
These policy changes are good news for people on social assistance, and come as a direct result of legal and policy advocacy work that ISAC has been doing for many years.
Since 2010, ISAC has been providing legal supports to community legal clinics to help them argue for a higher mileage rate for their individual clients. Most recently, we worked with colleagues at Aboriginal Legal Services and won an appeal on a case at Divisional Court. The issue in that case was the impact of the very low 18 cent mileage rate on a client who is on ODSP and has complex health needs that require him to travel extensively for medical treatments.
We argued that the 18 cent per kilometre rate was well below the actual cost of driving, and forced people on ODSP to divert money from food and rent to pay to get to the medical treatment they need, undermining their health and well-being. Access to treatment is vital to ensure the health and wellness of ODSP recipients. Many people on ODSP must travel to treatment by car, because of where they live or the nature of their disabilities. The mileage rate had been the same since 2000, even though the cost of gas had risen by 130% since then.
The Divisional Court agreed with us. In its ruling in October 2016, the court ordered the Social Benefits Tribunal to re-hear that client’s case on the basis that ODSP must cover the costs of both owning (e.g. insurance, registration fees) and operating (e.g. gas) a car.
As a result, we prepared new legal material to help community legal clinics argue for a higher mileage rate for their own clients.
We also brought together a number of partners to push for a change in policy so that everyone on ODSP would benefit.
In December, we sent a letter to Minister Jaczek advocating that the medical travel benefit rate be increased to a level that would better reflect real costs. The letter was sent on behalf of our partners at Aboriginal Legal Services, the Canadian Mental Health Association – Ontario, the ODSP Action Coalition, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, the Renfrew County Legal Clinic, the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario, and the legal clinic system’s Steering Committee on Social Assistance.
The Ministry has now made this important policy change – not only for the client in the court case, but for all people on both ODSP and OW. The new medical travel mileage rate will better respond to the real costs of driving to necessary medical treatment, for everyone.
The Ministry has also taken the additional step of increasing the self-employment business travel rate to 40 cents per kilometre, or 41 cents in the North / North East. This will mean an increase in the amount that people on social assistance who have their own businesses will be able to claim as an allowable business expense when reporting net business income. As a result, they will have less deducted from their monthly benefits. The new rate will start as of January 9 and will not be retroactive.
We’re very pleased that our work has resulted in these important changes. We look forward to continuing to advocate with the Ministry on other related issues, including the policy around mental health treatment as noted in our letter to Minister Jaczek.
You can read the government’s bulletin about these changes here: https://news.ontario.ca/mcss/en/2017/01/ontario-increasing-mileage-rates-for-social-assistance-recipients.html.
More information about these changes should be available on the Ministry’s website soon: http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/en/mcss/programs/social/mileageRates.aspx.