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Understanding the Allowance for the Survivor

Updated with July 2016 rates

The Allowance for the Survivor is one of the supplementary benefits payable under the Old Age Security (OAS) Act.

In my opinion, there is no valid policy rationale for this benefit. It happened more by accident than by design, and is a good example (in my mind) of how some well-intentioned government programs evolve into something else.

Who is eligible for the Allowance for the Survivor?

AgingIn order to be eligible for the Allowance for the Survivor:

  • You must be between 60 and 65 years old.
  • You must have had a spouse or common-law partner who has died, and you must not have remarried or entered into a common-law relationship after their death.
  • Your income must be lower than the maximum allowed income level. For example, for the period of July through September 2016, your annual income for 2015 must normally have been less than $23,424.
  • You must be a Canadian citizen or a legal resident of Canada.
  • You must reside in Canada now, and have at least 10 years of residence in Canada since turning age 18.

 How is my Allowance for the Survivor calculated?

All of the same rules regarding what is considered as income for GIS purposes apply to the Allowance for the Survivor.

Related article:  Understanding Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS)

For the most part, the Allowance for the Survivor payment is reduced from the maximum payable by 50 cents for every dollar of other income that you have, but there are some income levels where this reduction is 75 cents for every dollar.

The actual amount of the Allowance for the Survivor payment is determined using rate table 5.

What is the policy rationale for the Allowance for the Survivor?

As I said, simply stated, there is no valid policy rationale for the Allowance for the Survivor and it is a good example of how some well-intentioned government programs evolve into something else.

The story begins in 1975, with the creation of a new benefit under the OAS Act, called the Spouse’s Allowance. The Spouse’s Allowance was payable only to an age 60 to 65 spouse of an OAS/GIS pensioner.

The Spouse’s Allowance worked fine for the most part, but created a very difficult situation if the OAS/GIS pensioner died while the spouse was still under age 65. Not only did that mean that the younger spouse ceased to be eligible for the Spouse’s Allowance, it often meant recovering one or more months of overpayment from them, especially if there was a delay in notifying the department of the pensioner’s death.

Thus, around 10 years later, the Extended Spouse’s Allowance was created, whereby when an OAS/GIS pensioner spouse died, the surviving spouse would continue to be eligible for the Spouse’s Allowance for six months after the pensioner’s death. This eliminated most of the overpayment situations, and it provided a short bridge benefit to help the younger spouse after the death of the pensioner.

It wasn’t an ideal solution though, and it didn’t address the situation that occurred when the older spouse died shortly before turning age 65, but after the couple had already applied for and been approved for their OAS/GIS and the Spouse’s Allowance. In those cases, there was no entitlement to the Spouse’s Allowance for the month of death, so there was no entitlement to the Extended Spouse’s Allowance either.

To resolve this situation, a few years later the Widow(er)’s Allowance was created, whereby someone whose spouse had died at any age could be eligible for a benefit when they turned age 60.

Finally, under the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act in the year 2000, this benefit was extended to survivors of same-sex and common-law partner relationships, and the current Allowance for the Survivor benefit was created.

This new benefit solved all of the problems with the previous Spouse’s Allowance and the Extended Spouse’s Allowance, but it created a new policy dilemma.

The policy dilemma

Is there any true policy objective that is being met by providing a benefit to someone whose spouse or common-law partner died possibly 40 years earlier? And if so, would that policy objective really cease to exist if that person had a short-term marriage or common-law relationship subsequently?

Are such individuals somehow more needy or more deserving than someone the same age (and who meets the same residency and income criteria) who either never had a spouse or common-law partner, or where that relationship ended due to separation or divorce instead of due to death?

Where will it go from here?

I see the current Allowance for the Survivor as a temporary benefit, enroute to the day when anyone over age 60 will qualify, provided that they meet the income and residence requirements.

The impetus for this next change could come from public pressure; it could be a single appeal case where someone convinces the courts that the current legislation violates the Charter or it could be something that one of the parties adopts as an election issue.

If I’m right, what should this new benefit be called? How about something like the Allowance for anyone not married or living common-law benefit, or the AANMLCL benefit for short?

I would be pleased to hear any thoughts or ideas that you have on the current Allowance for Survivor benefit, or on my suggestion for a new benefit to replace it.

Helpful links:

For further information about the Allowance for the Survivor, including how to apply

For the current maximum allowed income levels for the Allowance for the Survivor.

Written by Doug Runchey

Doug Runchey worked for the Income Security Programs branch of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada for more than 32 years, and was a specialist in the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security legislation, regulations and policy areas. He now runs his own company, DR Pensions Consulting, which provides pension advice, including detailed calculations for CPP retirement planning and “credit splitting” purposes. Doug can be reached by email @ DRpensions@shaw.ca or check out his website at http://www.drpensions.ca/.

38 Responses to Understanding the Allowance for the Survivor

  1. Hi Doug,

    I have a quick ‘technical’ question if you don’t mind:

    my wife passed away in 2013 at age 62, in the beginning of 2014 I filed Allowance for the Survivor [OAS benefit] application and got approval letter to receive Survivor Allowance starting from September 2014,-for the year 2013, – however I have not received any payments, somehow forgot to contact CRA in 2014, contacted them in 2015, they confirmed that I was eligible to receive the benefit and even gave me an amount owing;

    currently I’m still waiting for the retroactive payment for over 3 months by now, called CRA a couple of times for the timeframe of the benefit, they confirm every time the payment due, but don’y give exact date of it and no valid explanation why payment being delayed [I don’t consider ‘computer glitch’ a valid explanation], last time they mentioned next year 2016 for the 2013th benefit payment;

    some detail: my wife’s 65th birthday would be in 2016 -may be this would be the reason of a delay, what would you say or suggest?

    Thank you and have a great day!

    Alex

    • Alex

      It might just be terminology, but it’s Service Canada that you should be contacting about the Allowance, not CRA. The phone# to call is 1-800-277-9914.

      There is nothing that I can think of that would justify the delays that you have described, and certainly the fact that your wife’s 65th birthday would have been in 2016 is not one of the causes of any delay.

      Email me at DRpensions@shaw.ca if you want me to assist you in a 3-way phone call with Service Canada.

  2. Doug, -yes I contacted Service Canada at 800-277-9914 of course 🙂

    Thanks for the offer, it may be needed!
    I may have to subscribe to 3-way calling feature first;

    Thanks Jim for posting my comment,

    Have a great weekend, gentlemen!

    Alex

  3. Hello Doug, I am collecting OAS allowance for a survivor. My question is that if I put some money into an RRSP to lower my income will the amount of my allowance for survivor payments increase.

    • Karin

      Yes, making an RRSP contribution will reduce your taxable income and will therefore increase your Allowance. There will be a delay though, because an RRSP contribution in 2016 won’t increase your Allowance until July 2017. There is also the issue that when you withdraw the RRSP it will increase your taxable income and thus decrease your Allowance or GIS (again with a delay in effect).

  4. HI doug,

    I was wondering can I get approve for both OAS and Allowance for survivor because I have no income at all and my partner passed away year ago and I am trying to understand the allowance for survivor.

    • Maxi

      The Allowance for survivor is payable only from age 60 to age 65. At age 65, you would become eligible for OAS and GIS.

  5. I am currently collecting the Allowance for survivor and am turning 65 in 2016. Do I have to apply for Old Age Security or will I just transition to the OAS Benefit at age 65?

    • Eric

      I’m quite sure that it will convert automatically to OAS effective the month following your 65th birthday, but it might be a good idea to call Service Canada at 1-800-277-9914 just to make sure.

      • Thanks for your reply – tried calling Service Canada at 1-800-277-9914 – only got a message saying their call volume was too high to transfer my call! I will try again soon.

        • I finally called my local MP Office to get an answer. After they contacted Service Canada the MP Office told me to file for OAS as Service Canada no longer automatically enrolls you.

  6. Regarding Allowance for Survivor, if the surviving spouse was legally married but separated from the deceased spouse for over 1 year, and the deceased spouse had been co-habiting with a common-law-partner during the separation, does the surviving spouse still qualify for the Allowance for Survivor? Or is the common-law-partner the only person who can apply for the Allowance for Survivor?

    • Sarah
      Good question! Yes, the legal spouse could still qualify for the Allowance for Survivor even if their spouse had a subsequent common-law partner, as long as they themselves didn’t have a subsequent common-law partner.

  7. Hi Doug,

    I called Service Canada and they told me that only the common-law partner qualifies for the Allowance for Survivor. Service Canada said that the separated spouse does not qualify if the deceased had a common-law partner during the separation. This seems to differ from your response to my question. Is Service Canada wrong?

    • Sarah

      I’m quite sure that I’m right, but I’ll do a bit more homework myself. In the interim, why don’t you try calling again and see if you get the same answer.

      • If the Allowance rules are the same as the CPP Survivor rules as quoted below, I would say Sarah is not eligible for either.

        “The Canada Pension Plan (CPP) survivor’s pension is paid to the person who, at the time of death, is the legal spouse or common-law partner of the deceased contributor.

        If you are a separated legal spouse and the deceased had no cohabiting common-law partner, you may qualify for this benefit.”

        • Eric

          The rules are not the same for OAS as they are for CPP. The wording in the OAS Act for the Allowance for a survivor is totally different from the wording in the CPP legislation for a survivor’s pension. The OAS Act even has a section 21(12) that states “A person’s eligibility for an allowance under this section in respect of a deceased spouse or common-law partner is not affected by the eligibility of another person for an allowance under this section in respect of that deceased spouse or common-law partner.”

          • Very vague legalese that does imply “eligibility”. But how many separated wife and subsequent common-law relationships would be granted the Allowance?

          • Eric

            I think it’s pretty specific legalese that states clearly that Sarah cannot be denied simply due to fact that her husband’s common-law partner might also be eligible for the Allowance.

    • Sarah

      I got similar responses as you when I called Service Canada’s 1-800#, but I got confirmation from a senior level at Service Canada that you are eligible. Please apply and let me know if you are approved or denied.

  8. Thank you, Doug, for looking into this for me – I truly appreciate it. I plan to submit my application and to let you know what happens. Thanks again!

  9. Hello im a little confused i receive a ccp surviour check or widows pension. I currently heard about the allowancece for survivour. I turned 60 in march this year. Is it possible to receive both benefits? Thankyou. Laura

      • Well im wondering does that mean it will be capped at a certain amount i get 597.00 whicj includes my ccp and widow pension if it says from my 2015 income tax my benefit could be 840 for 00allowance forsurviour does that mean it would b the difference between the the 597.00 and 840.00 or could i receive the 597.00 plus the allowance for surviour of 840.00

        • Laura – It would help to know how much your net income was for 2015, but if CPP is your only income it’s probably $597 plus $840.

    • Silvia – Yes, as long as you have remarried or had a common-law relationship since the death of your spouse, and as long as you’re residing in Canada.

  10. I hope this site is still active and that you are still helping people, which by the way I think is awesome of you to do! Thank You.
    I have a simple (but yet it seems to be complicated because I cannot find any clear answers to this)question.
    My husband died last November. He was 63. I am 62. Am I entitled to receive the Survivors Allowance at this point? or the Extended Survivors Allowance? (Not sure which is which or if they are the same) My husband was not retired but had just recently gotten laid off. This is a horrible time to ask about this but because everything happened so unexpectedly I have no income at this point. I would really appreciate your help. Thank you.

    • Hi Ada – You’re eligible for the Allowance for the Survivor if you have resided in Canada for at least 10 years and if your 2015 income was less than $23,616. You may also be eligible for a CPP survivor’s pension.

      • Thank you very much for putting my mind at rest, I really appreciate your taking the time to answer me on this because of my circumstances, I thought I was too but was told because he was not on OAS that I was not eligible, yet I read on the internet that I was so I was confused. I appreciate your help.
        Sincerely, Ada.

  11. I wondered if it is true that you do not receive your allowance for the survivor’s benefit for 35 weeks. I turned 60 in August of 2015 and started to receive my CPP benefits. I was informed this year January 2017, that I could qualify for the allowance for the survivor. I never knew about this program and would have applied sooner had I known. My question is will I be back paid 11 months and also does it really take 35 weeks to process the application? thank you for your response. Elizabeth Perdok

    • Hi Elizabeth – Yes, 11 months is the maximum retroactivity. And yes, it does appear that 35 weeks is currently the standard processing time.

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