It's Pension Time

Who could have imagined it would be such an ordeal to collect your Canada pension?

By Anne Van Dyk
Published March 09, 2012

If you are a baby boomer and ready to collect your pensions, look out. Nowhere in a financial planning article or book is there any mention of the complicated procedure required to collect your pension, especially if you are an immigrant to this country.

I am on the leading edge of the Boomer generation. I received an envelope from Service Canada in October 2010, informing me that I was already entitled to collect my CPP, and that I should apply for my Old Age Security six months in advance of my 65th birthday.

I was working at the time, and being a procrastinator, I didn't feel any great rush to fill in the forms. How wrong can you be?

During Boxing week, while the malls and parking lots were insane, I decided it was time to sit down and tackle the paperwork. If you think dealing with Service Canada is easy, think again. You are in for a roller coaster ride.

I faithfully read every piece of paper contained in the envelope and believed I was following the instructions to the letter. The first form I tackled was the Old Age Security form which was pretty straightforward.

The second form for the CPP was not so easy. On one page there was a list of required documents and the presentation of one of these documents was required to be included with the forms to be photocopied and notarized by a Service Canada employee.

No problem there. I carry my citizenship card with me all the time.

The following week, I drove to the Service Canada office with completed forms, two void cheques and required documentation. I thought I only had to drop off the forms and leave.

The lovely young man on the front desk informed me that someone had to go over the forms to make sure they had been filled in correctly, and bade me take a seat in the waiting area. I sat.

After a relatively short wait, a Service Canada employee appeared from the bowels of the office and said "Bonjour". I wondered what would have happened if I really was French and needed to conduct a lengthy conversation about this application.

She led me to a desk at the very back of the office and pointed to a seat in front of her booth. I pulled out the sheath of paperwork, which she began to read. I had missed the part about entering my married name. Then she asked for my identification, which I dutifully produced.

"And where is your landed immigrant card?" she asked.

"Do you mean that little slip of cardboard they handed me 45 years ago?" I asked.

"That's the one", she replied.

"Well, I have no idea where it is and I'm sure I had no idea in 1966 that I would be required to produce it in 2011," I ventured.

"In that case, you will have to go to the Citizenship and Immigration department in downtown Hamilton, and they will give you a copy."

I pointed out that the forms stated that only one piece of the mentioned documents was required, but all she said was that I needed to prove that I had landed in Canada in 1966.

She stamped the forms, attached a voided cheque to each one, and took a copy of my citizenship card, then told me to drop off the landed immigrant paper when I received it from Immigration.

Then I asked about claiming part of my ex-husbands CPP because it was not mentioned anywhere in the application for my pension.

"Oh," she said. "That's another set of forms," and proceeded pull reams of paper from a shelf on the wall. She explained that I should return them to the Service Canada office with a copy of my divorce agreement.

I asked her to clarify which divorce paper was required. She told me it was the handwritten one that outlines the agreement between my ex and myself. No problem there - I have it at home.

Not once during this entire process was there a smile of word of encouragement from this Service Canada employee. In fact 'stone face' would describe her to a 'T'.

I stood up to leave, figuring I would take the new set of forms home and study them there. Why Service Canada cannot include information about claiming an ex's CPP is beyond me. I can only surmise that it is a question of 'if you don't ask, you don't get.'

The following week, I received another envelope from Service Canada with a list of my CPP contributions paid since 1966. At this point I'm wondering if the left hand knows what the right hand is doing!

My next chore was to obtain a copy of the landed immigrant card. I spent four days going through my security box trying to find the darned thing, but to no avail.

I even had four old passports to which I know the card was attached at one point, but it had miraculously disappeared. The only thing left to do was to go to the Immigration office.

I should mention here that I venture into downtown Hamilton about once every three years, and the last three visits have resulted in a parking ticket even when parked in a parking lot. So not knowing how long the line-up would be, I decided to take the bus.

I haven't ridden a bus in about twenty years, so I went online to try and find the required bus number and the fare required. The website didn't recognize the address I was entering, so I gave up and called the HSR and learned that the bus that runs by my house only operates once an hour.

It would be easier to drive to the local plaza and take a bus that runs every twenty minutes. Done.

I set out from home at 11.15 and arrived downtown just before noon. I went to the Standard Life building where I thought the immigration office was, and learned from a duty commissioner that Immigration was now at 55 Bay Street with a separate entrance on Market Street.

He said that they are closed from noon till 1pm, and only open from 1-3pm. I looked at my watch - it was 2 minutes past twelve. I had an hour to kill.

No problem - I enjoy browsing around the downtown Farmers Market. Only this time there was a huge sign on the door advising that the market was closed due to renovations.

At ten to one, I crossed from Jackson Square to Market Street to find half a dozen people already in line. We stood in the freezing cold, waiting for the door to open.

I passed the time by reading the notices on the door - 'no perfumes allowed', 'applications for citizenship not available at this office', 'take a number upon entering', but nothing about 'no smoking'!

There was also a notice saying that the office would be closed from 1-3 pm the following day. Good job I hadn't left this till Friday.

Finally the door was unlocked and we streamed in and took a number. I was fourth in line. One teller was open and finally it was my turn.

I told her that I required a copy of my landed immigrant card. She put out her left hand and produced another set of forms and told me that there was such a backlog that it would take four to five months to get a copy of my card.

In the meantime, I must fill in two copies of the new forms and mail them to the office, and take another copy back to Service Canada and explain about the delay in getting the landed immigrant card. By the way, it will cost you $30.00. I was shaking my head as I left the building.

I should mention here that a friend, who is also a Brit, had lost his landed immigrant card a few years ago. When he went to the Citizenship office and asked for a copy, the clerk simply asked for details of when he landed and printed a copy of his immigrant card on the spot at no charge.

I spent the following wintry weekend going over the application forms for the copy of my landed immigrant card and dug out the required documents. So far, so good.

Monday morning I headed to the Service Canada office with my bulging envelope in hand. Once again, I had to take a seat in the waiting area. This time it was 35 minutes before I was called. I made a mental note never to go to the office on a Monday morning again.

This time, my counsellor was a nice young man named Gene. I handed him the application for the split CPP pension, then told him I had been informed by Immigration that I should ask him to photocopy the application and add it to my file.

He told me I didn't need to do that, that they already know that there is a four to five month backlog, and all I needed to do was phone in to say that I had made application! I didn't bother telling him that it is impossible to get through to a live person on the CPP phone line.

He then asked for a copy of my marriage certificate, which I fortunately had in my bulging envelope. Then he requested my divorce certificate. I looked at him and asked why I needed that when I had already handed him my divorce agreement.

He pointed out that the divorce agreement wasn't required, since it was technically a separation agreement and not proof of divorce. I pointed out that his neighbour two booths away had told me to bring the agreement and had not mentioned the marriage or divorce certificates. She also hadn't mentioned the four to five month delay in getting the landed immigrant card. He remained silent.

March 13, 2011: Card was mailed from Citizenship & Immigration

March 30, 2011: Card was in my mailbox. So much for Canada Post!

April 13, 2011: Received a letter from Service Canada telling me that my application for Old Age Security had been approved and I would receive my cheque at the end of the month following my birthday month.

April 25, 2011: Another letter from Service Canada advising that my CPP had been approved including the child allowance.

May 17, 2011: Received another letter from Service Canada telling me the amount I would receive and only mentioning the child allowance. No mention of the ex's portion.

I called the office, was put on hold and then told that my ex had not signed the required paperwork and that it could take another four to six weeks. I was assured that the allowance would be paid retroactively once the paperwork was received and that if my ex didn't return the paperwork they would contact him again. We shall see!

May 27, 2011: Cheques deposited in my account, minus the ex allowance.

Bottom line: Apply 6 months in advance in case issues arise.

Make sure you have your Canadian Birth Certificate.

For a copy of your landed immigrant card, you need your current passport, marriage and divorce certificates and $30.00.

For the CPP pension application you require the following documents: Citizenship card and your original passport or landed immigrant card showing the date you entered Canada.

Take two void cheques, for direct bank deposit of each pension.

Find your ex-husbands/wife's SIN number, mailing address and phone number. If he/she can't be found or has left the country you have another set of problems!

Print a set of the forms to collect a portion of your ex-husband's CPP pension. They are available online on the Service Canada website or from the Service Canada office near you.

Take your marriage certificate, divorce certificate - in fact empty your strong box - there's probably something in there that they require!

Anne Van Dyk earned her Professional Writer's Certificate at Mohawk College and is currently working on two non-fiction books. One is a biography on the life of her godmother, and the other is a history of the last high school she attended in England, of which she is also the Alumni Secretary.


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By Clyde_Cope (registered) | Posted March 10, 2012 at 10:34:38

Anne - thanks for my morning smile - with all the cutbacks in Service Canada it has been a real fight for me to find someone who really knows the act - and cares. My pension was so messed up I finally went down to David Chistopherson's office, my MP. Boy do they know their stuff and are so helpful. Yep, they straightened out my pension not once but twice - both times because Service Canada is short of people who know what they are doing. So, my advice to everyone fighting through pension issues is to make a visit to your MP's office and bypass Service Canada entirely.

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By MattM (registered) | Posted March 10, 2012 at 12:04:13

I worked at Citizenship and Immigration in Hamilton during about the same time that you applied for your verification of entry form, so I'm familiar with the incredible amount of paperwork required for these things. We got about 10-15 of those applications daily since, as you can imagine, a very high amount of people who have immigrated to Canada at a much earlier time are now able to collect OAS. Even myself I found the amount of paperwork and ID required combined with the wait time must be incredibly frustrating. I fielded many frustrated, confused calls regarding the application forms and ID required and I'll tell you right now, don't ever let that Citizenship card out of your sight. The replacement process for that thing is just as involved, if not more so.

The cutbacks to both Service Canada and CIC also weigh pretty heavily in the scenario. It's really unfortunate.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted March 10, 2012 at 14:07:56

Cutbacks are very important. Without cutbacks, Canadian households may just see their net worth start to rise again...

Back in the nineties, when Canadian spending on government averaged 47% of GDP, net worth climbed from 410%/income to 580%...

In the past decade, as we brought government spending down, payed off debt, cut corporate tax rates and created food bank lines, household net worth has increased to 600%.

Do you really want your household net worth to start growing again? I didn't think so.

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By Drachmas to Donuts (anonymous) | Posted March 11, 2012 at 06:22:53 in reply to Comment 75146

How big is Canada’s debt?

...Canada’s accumulated debt, or the sum of all its budget deficits, translates into about 30% of the total GDP. That makes the country a shining star among struggling G7 economies and represents a drastic decline from the mid-1990s when the federal debt-to-GDP ratio hit nearly 70%. In real dollars Canada’s debt did set a record. But adjusted for inflation, today’s federal debt pales in comparison with the records of the mid-1990s. For instance, the debt in 1996 stood at nearly $769-billion when adjusted for inflation, 25% higher than the present-day debt.

So that’s all there is to it, right?

Not exactly. Other analysts take a different approach to calculating Canada’s debt, putting the debt-to-GDP ratio anywhere from 30% to as high as 80%. For example, by looking at Canada’s gross debt, which includes the debts of provincial governments, but excludes some assets like the Canada/Quebec Pension Plan accounts, Canada’s debt-to-GDP ratio increases to closer to 65%. That increase owes much to Ontario’s skyrocketing debt, projected to be nearly $250-billion by next year (2012), and Quebec’s dismal 50% debt-to-GDP ratio. The International Monetary Fund debt calculations, in contrast, also include unfunded liabilities such as public sector pension funds. Those calculations put Canada’s debt closer to $900-billion and the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio as high as 80%. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development excludes employee pension plan future liabilities, but includes current public sector pension plan assets in its calculations, making Canada’s combined federal and provincial debt closer to 30%.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted March 11, 2012 at 17:26:55 in reply to Comment 75154

Every dollar that Canada's government is in debt, represents a Canadian dollar in savings for someone else, either households, corporations or foreigners.

Why would people want to save so many Canadian dollars? Is it because they lack confidence in the Canadian economy? Or, is it the opposite?

Ask yourself why yields on Canadian bonds are at historical lows? In other words, why are investors willing to pay high prices for Canadian/Ontario debt?

Most of the experts out there don't realize that Canadian debt is "printed" money. As such, we could take federal debt to $200 trillion (from $580 billion), interest payments to $10 trillion and we could still spend limitless amounts on health, education, etc.

The government of Canada in reality uses a printing press to spend and ONLY levies taxes to control inflation.

Spending = money printing
Taxation = money destruction
Debt issuance = Monetary tool to control bank reserves

In our current environment of high household debt and high unemployment, the feds should decrease "money destruction" by cutting taxes and running a larger deficit (of printed Canadian dollars).

Doing this would allow households to pay back bank debt, while also increasing spending.

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted March 11, 2012 at 22:48:40

This is something I can't really imagine yet. Frustration is quite common, and justifiable, when dealing with bureaucratic processes though.

One consideration: are they concerned about fraud? The more hoops one has to jump through, the lesser the odds a phony claim will make it through, I would think. Perhaps that is part of the reason for the rigamarole?

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By Allen (registered) | Posted March 12, 2012 at 01:43:13

This article is quite interesting

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By Samsquatch (anonymous) | Posted March 12, 2012 at 02:28:24

Nice article, but you mixed up the two pensions. Its CPP that's the easy one. OAS is the one that requires additional documents. ScreamingViking- they need more docs because the benefit is based on residency... So you have to prove how long you've been in canada. If you have one of those big, original Citizenship Certificates they are like gold if they are 40+ yrs old, then you don't need the record of landing. You can also save your 30$ by finding any official document with your name, date etc on it that shows it (and you) were in records are good.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted March 12, 2012 at 11:29:44

This sounds a lot like my adventures trying to help a friend register a used car last summer. I could write an essay just as long and frustrating. It's truly amazing how many times you can come back to the same desk (after waiting nearly an hour in line) and get turned away for a missing document they hadn't mentioned yet. Five, six, seven times later, there were still documents we needed. After three months, we both gave up and handed the keys to his girlfriend - a $500 car wasn't worth that many days of missed work.

Oh, and I once got turned away from filing papers at the courthouse because the law firm had used an incorrect font size. Bureaucracy is maddening.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 15, 2012 at 23:27:06 in reply to Comment 75186

What was so difficult?

I sold a vehicle a couple of years ago. All we needed to do was buy the $20 used vehicle package from the Ministry, get the car a safety and e-test, and sign over the ownership. The buyer then took a copy of the used vehicle package, safety, e-test and signed-over ownership to the Ministry and a copy of insurance, got plates, and was on his way. It took more time waiting for the safety and signing over the papers than anything else.

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By Wiccan (anonymous) | Posted March 14, 2012 at 16:03:47

My family members went through this and it was easy as pie. You keep mentioning that you have to wait for service and that the people helping you did not even crack a smile. You are probably the 200th person they saw that day. Why do you think you are so special and entitled?

You keep brining up getting a piece of your ex's pension, why are you entitled to something that you didn't work for? You sound like a spoiled brat.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted March 19, 2012 at 10:01:20 in reply to Comment 75216

Spoiled brat? You're very insulting...

If one spouse stays home with children, while the other works, only one of them is contributing to CPP. If they stay together that CPP is effectivley shared in their old age when it is used to fund their retirement living.

If the two get divorced legislation requires the splitting of CPP credits during the years of marriage. The idea is that not splitting credits is a windfall to the spouse who worked, and a shortfall to the one who stayed at home with the kids. This is not something unique to her situation - it is required, unless circumstances exist which would fall outside the legislative scheme.

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By Hagström (anonymous) | Posted April 02, 2012 at 14:57:13

Sweden's Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said people should work till they are 75 rather than expect to retire at 65, sparking a furor in a country that prides itself on its cradle-to-grave welfare system.

Reinfeldt heads a center-right coalition that has so far cautiously cut taxes and some welfare spending without alienating middle class voters proud of their social security.

He made his remarks ahead of a conference this week on jobs for the elderly and women, which will be attended by some European leaders.

"The question is whether an employer will have a different attitude to someone who is 55 if the 55-year-old says, 'now I am thinking of working for another 20 years'," Reinfeldt was quoted by daily Dagens Nyheter as saying.

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By threeapples (anonymous) | Posted April 17, 2012 at 10:30:53

I am doing a CPP application, and just realized that I too need my landed immigrant card. As a Canadian Citizen for over 30 years, you can imagine my frustration that once again I need a document that no person in their right mind would keep - not after becoming a citizen! Further, the wait time (approx. 6 months) is adding insult to injury. Clearly whomever it was that thought up these rules, was not an immigrant herself. I personally wonder, when my right as a Canadian Citizen will be akin to someone who had the luxury of being born here.

Charter that.

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By Tygergal (anonymous) | Posted July 25, 2013 at 23:15:16

My husband is just now going through much the same thing! The little piece of paper he received when entering the country in 1965 has long since vanished so he applied to immigration for a copy in April. When he called today they told him that it would be 6 to 8 months before he receives it! He turns 65 in September and we were hoping that his pension would kick in as he was laid off from his job last year. We haven't had to hit the foodbank lineup yet but it will be soon....

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