Measuring the duty of fairness

An Albertan complained the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) program unfairly denied her funds to pay a portion of her telephone bill after she was victimized by an alleged telephone fraud.  Certain personal benefit decisions can be appealed to the Citizens’ Appeal Panel, but there are certain personal benefit decisions where the minister has decision-making authority.  That authority has been delegated to senior managers, and because that is a ministerial delegation, the position of the department is there is no appeal available.  

An Ombudsman’s investigation learned it was a senior manager who made the decision to deny what was labeled as ‘emergency funds’.  Those types of decisions regarding emergency funds are considered to be appealable decisions. However, when the complainant filed an appeal application, the supervisor reviewing the appeal on behalf of the department argued AISH does not normally cover telephone costs, unless there is a medical necessity.  That type of decision is considered to be a non-appealable decision.

The end result was a lack of clarity regarding the categorization of the complainant’s request, as well as the legislative authority under which the department made its decision to deny the request.  The Ombudsman recommended the department issue a new decision, and that the department consider consulting its legal counsel to determine what reviews are available of a senior manager’s decision when he or she is acting under the delegation of the minister. 

The department revised its forms and processes as a result of this investigation.  The complainant received a new decision which once again denied her request. However, she was provided clear information that this was a decision she could appeal to the Citizens’ Appeal Panel.