A Nanaimo woman is battling the B.C. government for cancelling her social assistance cheques in the wake of a devastating house fire.
Georgina Miller, 50, lost everything in a town home fire last February – including her right to government aid.
Now she is pushing back through the B.C. Employment Assistance Tribunal this month, seeking a reversal in the province’s decision to cancel her assistance cheques and change to government’s approach to policy.
The Nanaimo woman said she was on social assistance for four months before a fire damaged her Pryde Avenue home. She had been using the dollars to help pay the mortgage while she was on medical leave.
Her insurance provider, Associated Independent Adjusters, compensated her for items damaged during the fire and is helping to cover living expenses while the building is repaired. According to a letter from the company, the money is only meant to help Miller maintain the standard of living she had before the fire. They cover the additional costs of temporary accommodation and utilities, while Miller continues to pay home ownership expenses, like strata fees, mortgage and hydro.
But the Ministry of Social Development sees the payment as unearned income, which it says puts Miller over the threshold for government aid. The agency reportedly cancelled assistance in May and is also seeking one month repayment.
“The [approach to the] law has to change. That’s crazy,” Miller said, pointing out she is still scraping money together to pay the bills even with insurance help.
“It was the worst day of my life when I had to apply for welfare. I am an independent woman who raised my daughter by myself. Now this? The whole thing is wrong.”
Miller has received just over $6,000 from her insurance provider for living expenses over the past five months and another $3,500 to replace belongings lost in the fire.
She was getting $610 each month from the government before assistance was nixed.
According to Miller, the insurance money can only be paid toward temporary housing expenses, while the social aid went toward home ownership.
Without help, she stands to now lose her home.
“It’s a miscarriage of justice. I don’t know why they are doing this,” Miller said.
The ministry told the News Bulletin they did a file review on Miller earlier this year and found insurance benefits received not only covered assets damaged in the house fire, but also living expenses.
While the province’s Employment and Assistance Regulation exempts insurance benefits for a destroyed asset, it does count living expenses as unearned income.
Miller is now waiting on results of the tribunal.