Evidence of meeting #50 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was board.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Paul Thompson  Assistant Deputy Minister, Processing and Payment Services Branch, Service Canada
  • Éric Giguère  Director, Employment Insurance Appeal Division, Service Canada

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair (Ms. Candice Hoeppner (Portage—Lisgar, CPC)) Candice Bergen

Order, please.

I'll just remind everyone that we are now in public. We are continuing, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), our study of the procedures and practices of the Employment Insurance Board of Referees.

I've had some people asking me about this particular study and discussing its scope. I want to remind everyone that this motion is that the committee “...study the procedures and practices for appealing a decision by the Employment Insurance Board of Referees, and that it report its findings and recommendations to the House”.

We are pleased to have officials with us today from the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development, Paul Thompson and Éric Giguère.

Mr. Thompson, if you'd like to present, that would be good, and then we'll have questions following your presentation. Go ahead, sir.

11:25 a.m.

Paul Thompson Assistant Deputy Minister, Processing and Payment Services Branch, Service Canada

Madam Chair and members of the committee, I am pleased to have this opportunity to appear before you.

I have been asked to address the committee on the procedures for appealing decisions of the Employment Insurance Board of Referees to the umpire.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Candice Bergen

I'm sorry, but could you stop for a moment? We have some translation problems.

Go ahead, Mr. Thompson.

11:25 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Processing and Payment Services Branch, Service Canada

Paul Thompson

As I was saying, I was asked to address the committee on the procedures for appealing decisions of the Employment Insurance Board of Referees to the umpire.

I am joined today by my colleague Éric Giguère, Director of the EI Appeals Division, who also will be able to speak to various elements of the appeal process.

I would like to begin by providing a brief description of the overall EI appeals system.

The Employment Insurance Act provides two levels of appeal for EI claimants and their employers who disagree with a decision that is made by the EI Commission on matters that relate to the payment of benefits. The first level of appeal is the board of referees.

These part-time boards are independent, impartial three-member panels of laypersons from the community who hear appeals at 83 centres across Canada. The chairpersons are Governor in Council appointments, whereas the employer and the insured person representatives are appointed by their respective commissioners. There are currently more than 900 active members on the board of referees.

When EI clients receive notification of a commission decision they are informed of their right of appeal to the Board of Referees. Their appeal must be submitted to Service Canada in writing within 30 days, although this deadline may be extended by the commission for special reasons.

When Service Canada receives an appeal to the board, the letter and the appeal decision are reviewed to determine if the decision can be reversed. If the original decision is incorrect, it is reversed and benefits are paid, or the overpayment is removed, as applicable. If not the appeal proceeds to the board.

When appeals are going to the board, Service Canada aims to have these appeals ready and scheduled to be heard within 30 days from receipt of the client's letter.

The second level of appeal for claimants and employers—which is also the first level of appeal for the EI Commission—is the umpire. The umpire is an independent administrative tribunal that operates at arm's length from HRSDC. It is headed by the chief umpire, who is a Governor in Council appointee. Umpires are current or retired judges of either a superior, county, district, or provincial court, or of the Federal Court of Canada. Single-panel umpires hear the appeals across Canada.

When clients receive the decision of the board of referees, they are informed that they have a right to appeal that decision to the umpire. Their appeal must be submitted to Service Canada in writing within 60 days, although this deadline, as with the board of referees, may be extended by the umpire for special reasons.

It is important to note that the Office of the Umpire operates at arm's length from Service Canada and reports directly to the Chief Umpire in matters of case management and scheduling. I have been advised that the Office of the Umpire aims to hear appeals within six months in large centres and at latest, within 12 months in remote areas.

I mentioned that the commission also has a right of appeal to the umpire. The commission has a responsibility to ensure that clients are paid the benefits to which they are entitled. At the same time, the commission also has a responsibility to all Canadians to ensure that the EI fund is protected and is sustainable.

The commission respects the role and the authority of the board of referees. When reviewing a board decision that has allowed a client's appeal, the commission must clearly establish that at least one of the legislated grounds for appeal to the umpire exists. To reach this decision, a thorough review of the file is conducted, and there are strict guidelines to ensure that frivolous appeals do not proceed.

In the end, the commission appeals a relatively low number of board decisions to the umpire. In the past five years, the commission has, on average, appealed only 9% of Board of Referees rulings overturning the commission's decisions.

In conclusion, the EI appeals system has a long and enduring history of providing our clients with a quick, effective and efficient redress mechanism. But we are always looking for opportunities to improve. I am pleased to inform you that we have undertaken a number of initiatives to improve the quality and speed of our service.

These include a national appeals processing unit that's dedicated to addressing the increased workload from the economic downturn. We've created centres of expertise across the country. We are in the process of reviewing and simplifying appeals processes and looking at moving work more easily from place to place. We have plans in place to make use of imaging technology to facilitate the distribution as well, and to improve our tracking and filing system for clients.

The EI appeals system plays a tremendous role in providing feedback on the overall health of the EI program and it certainly influences program and policy direction. But what is most important is that it is an extremely important service to Canadians.

I look forward to your questions.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Candice Bergen

Thank you very much.

We will begin our first round of questions. There will be seven minutes for each question and answer.

Mr. Savage, we'll begin with you, please.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you, gentlemen.

Mr. Thompson, it's good to see you at the committee once again.

We heard from some people who have had some issues with the appeal process for EI claims. We heard from a number of people about what percentage of claims are appealed, and what are successful and what aren't. You tell us that in the past five years the commission has appealed only 9% of the rulings of the board of referees.

Do you have full statistics on how many EI claims are appealed, and at what level, and what the success rate of all of those is?

11:30 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Processing and Payment Services Branch, Service Canada

Paul Thompson

There are some statistics published in the monitoring and assessment report produced by the commission every year. The next report is scheduled to come out in the coming weeks and reports on certain indicators, including the volume of appeals and some of the key performance indicators as well.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

On the off chance that one or more members of the committee hasn't studied last year's report in depth, could you give us a précis of what the last report told us?

11:35 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Processing and Payment Services Branch, Service Canada

Paul Thompson

For 2008-2009, the overall number of appeals to the board of referees was just over 50,000, which represented about 1.6% of all EI claims.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

What was the result of those appeals?

11:35 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Processing and Payment Services Branch, Service Canada

Paul Thompson

In terms of the results that were favourable to the client, we've had a consistent range of 22% to 24% of appeals being decided in favour of the client.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Some of the complaints we heard were from people who generally work with workers who quite often feel overwhelmed by the process of appealing. We heard about some of the issues with how the boards are appointed. I don't think that's within the purview of the study we're doing. I'll leave that one aside, but there were some issues with how long the process took. There were issues raised about how well people are trained when they go on, for example, a board of referees.

Could you tell us who does the training before somebody is appointed, after they're appointed, and before they take part in the process?

11:35 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Processing and Payment Services Branch, Service Canada

Paul Thompson

The training strategy is the responsibility of the commission, and there was an independent consultant hired to develop the strategy and to deliver that strategy. Some of the elements of the training plan are indeed delivered by Service Canada. These tend to be the more technical elements around the legislation, but the ownership of the training plan itself rests with the commission. It was approved by the commissioner for workers and the commissioner for employers, and it is delivered and coordinated independently from it.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

In your view, is there some room of review of that process to see if it is, in fact, providing the kind of people we need, with the training they need to do this work?

11:35 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Processing and Payment Services Branch, Service Canada

Paul Thompson

As I say, the ownership of the strategy rests with the commission. It would be their responsibility, I think, to arrive at that conclusion. The monitoring and assessment report, which I indicated does provide ongoing monitoring, including monitoring of the appeals system, would be the basis on which they could arrive at that conclusion.