Poorest B.C. seniors not getting help, advocate says

Many don’t know about government subsidies available, survey finds


B.C.’s seniors advocate says the first survey conducted by her office surprised her by revealing that many of the people who are in most need of help don’t know how to get it.

Isobel Mackenzie says the next step is to find out how to get the message to seniors and to make it easier to apply for subsidies, some of which must be renewed each year.

The survey conducted in the fall of 2014 interviewed 506 seniors throughout B.C. by telephone.

Here are some of its key findings along with a reality check from the front lines.

Getting a break from Medicare premiums

“Something that really jumped out was MSP (Medical Services Plan) premium assistance,” Mackenzie said in a telephone interview. “It’s a sliding scale so you get full premium assistance at $22,000 or less. And absolutely everybody with a household income of $30,000 or less would benefit in some way.”

It adds up to a savings of $864 per year for the lowest income group.

Sixty per cent of respondents living on less than $30,000 a year said they didn’t know they could get help with Medicare premiums.

“That tells me there are people out there who could be getting cost relief and increase their disposable income, but they are not being connected to these programs,” Mackenzie said.

Help with rent or deferred property taxes

About 17,500 people — or one in five seniors — use the Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER), which can provide $180 per month to people with incomes below $22,000.

This is only available to those who pay rent for their homes, which is an estimated 20 per cent of B.C. seniors, according to Mackenzie’s office.

The median income for seniors in this province is $24,000, meaning half of B.C.’s 820,000 seniors earn more than that and half earn less.

Seniors in Metro Vancouver were more likely to know about the grant, but it’s used most within the boundaries of the Interior Health Authority, where half of the seniors surveyed received the SAFER grant.

Those who are homeowners can defer property taxes until their home is sold or until their death through the province’s Property Tax Deferment Program.

Yet only 40 per cent of senior homeowners with household incomes below $30,000 were aware of the program, compared with 75 per cent of homeowners with incomes greater than $60,000.

“These low-income senior households are the ones that could potentially benefit the most from a tax deferment program, yet are the least aware of its existence,” states the report.

In real life

Susan Moore, director of an information and referral centre run by the West End Senior’s Network in Vancouver, said she sees people scrimp on food and medications because they have never asked the government for anything and they don’t know there is help available.

“They did plan, they had money in the bank, they had investments, then they stayed healthy and they outlived their savings,” Moore said Wednesday. “And they will have exhausted every personal resource before they ask for help.”

Seniors make up 17 per cent of the population, a figure that’s expected to double during the next two decades.

The B.C. Seniors survey, conducted in conjunction with BC Stats and HealthLink BC, says its margin of error is plus or minus 4.38 per cent.

The full report is available at seniorsadvocatebc.ca

Where to go for help

• 411 Seniors Centre Society, Vancouver, 604-684-8171, 411seniors.bc.ca

• Seniors Services Society, New Westminster, 604-520-6621, seniorsservicessociety.ca

• BC Centre for Elder Advocacy and Support, 604-437-1940 or 1-866-437-1940 (toll free), http://bcceas.ca

bc211.ca: Free confidential, multilingual information and referral assistance for government, community and social services for seniors. Dial 211 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.


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