As you may be aware, seniors who have limited income aside from their OAS pension may be eligible for the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), which is part of the Old Age Security (OAS) program.
If you have ever looked at the GIS rate tables on Service Canada’s website, you may have noticed that the rates shown apply only if you are receiving the “full OAS pension.” The rate tables don’t really explain how much GIS you will receive if you’re receiving only a partial OAS pension (due to having fewer than 40 years of residence in Canada after age 18).
Receiving a partial OAS pension affects the amount of GIS that a pensioner will receive in two ways:
- A pensioner receiving partial OAS will receive more GIS than someone receiving a full OAS pension, to make up for their lesser amount of OAS.
- A pensioner receiving partial OAS will receive GIS up to a higher income, compared to someone receiving a full OAS pension
Why does someone receiving a partial OAS pension receive more GIS?
The intent of the GIS program is to ensure that anyone who is eligible for OAS receives at least a minimum level of income on which to live. There are various minimum monthly income levels established, depending on a pensioner’s marital status
Related article: Understanding Guaranteed Income Supplement
For example, as of October 2014, the minimum monthly income level for a single OAS pensioner has been set at $1,328.14. If someone is receiving a full OAS pension ($563.74 for October 2014) and they have no other source of income aside from their OAS pension, that means that they will be entitled to GIS in the amount of $764.40 ($1,328.14 – $563.74).
However, if they are receiving only a partial OAS pension, that means that they must receive more GIS in order to reach that same minimum income level of $1,328.14.
Let’s use the example of Peter to see how this works. If Peter has resided in Canada for only 25 years when he becomes eligible for OAS, he will receive a partial OAS pension of $352.34 (25/40ths of $563.74). If he has no other income aside from OAS, he will be entitled to GIS in the amount of $975.80 ($1,328.14 – $352.34).
Why can someone receiving a partial OAS pension have a higher income before losing eligibility for GIS?
For the most part, the amount of GIS that someone is entitled to is reduced by 50 cents for every dollar of income that the person has from other sources (excluding the OAS). (The GIS rate tables actually function by reducing GIS by $1.00 monthly for every $24.00 of annual income.) If someone receives more GIS because they’re receiving only a partial OAS, it therefore follows that it requires a higher threshold before they lose all of their GIS entitlement.
Let’s use the above example of Peter to demonstrate how this works.
If a single pensioner receiving a full OAS pension has income of more than $17,088 annually from other sources, they won’t be eligible for any GIS. However, they will still receive their full OAS pension of $563.74.
If Peter has income from other sources totaling $17,088, he will need to receive GIS in the amount of $211.40 ($563.74 – $352.34), in order to be at the same overall income level as someone receive a full OAS pension.
Since his GIS will continue to be reduced by 50 cents for every dollar of other income that he has, that means that his GIS entitlement won’t be fully eliminated until he has a further $5,064 of income from other sources ($211 x 24). This means that the threshold for Peter to receive GIS is $22,152 ($17.088 + $5,064).
Is this situation fair?
It seems that the GIS top-up and higher income threshold for pensioners who have had their GIS topped up may put people who have lived their whole lives in Canada at a disadvantage, particularly since OAS payments are taxed and the GIS is not.
I have my own thoughts about the fairness of this situation, but I’m interested in hearing what other Retire Happy readers think.