NWT Income security questions: why were payments late in October and will ECE cover the resulting late charges? Minister doesn't have answers.
"…The Member for Frame Lake, Ms. Bisaro. QUESTION 300-17(3):
HANSARD UNEDITED TRANSCRIPT
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 2, 2012 YELLOWKNIFE, NORTHWEST TERRITORIES
DELAY IN INCOME SUPPORT PAYMENTS
MS. BISARO: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My questions today are addressed to the Minister of Education, Culture and Employment and I'd like to follow up on my Member's statement. I spoke about the difficulties that one of my constituents had in getting an income support cheque for the month of October and the delay that occurred. He applied well in advance of the end of the month, and yet didn't receive his income support cheque until the 15th of October.
I'd like to know from the Minister at the outset, delays appear periodically, I can accept that, but I'd like to know from the Minister what length of delay does the Minister or the department consider acceptable for a delay in income support payments. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: Thank you, Ms. Bisaro. Minister of Education, Culture and Employment, Mr. Lafferty.
HON. JACKSON LAFFERTY: Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. Client service officers work closely with the clients and we try to avoid most delays as much as possible, but there are times where we are challenged with the clientele producing valid documents, such as bank statements or other sources of income. At times we have to wait until we receive that documentation. So part of the process is we want to expedite the process, but at the same time we require those documents according to our policies and legislation that we have in place. Mahsi.
MS. BISARO: To the Minister, the problem in this case was not that the documentation was missing. This client is extremely particular and would have had all the documents in order. The problem in this case was a staff shortage, and that was admitted to my constituent in an e-mail, that there was a staff shortage and things were behind. So I don't think we can lay this particular delay in payments at the feet of the constituent. This was definitely a department problem and I didn't hear an answer to what the Minister accepts as an acceptable delay. But since there are delays and since there are staff shortages, which was the problem in this case, I'd like to know from the Minister what procedures, what policies, what customs are in place when there is a staff shortage for the division of income support to get cheques out on time. Thank you.
HON. JACKSON LAFFERTY: Mahsi. When there is a staff shortage due to maybe illness or vacation and whatnot, we do have individuals covering those bases as well. Again, we try to avoid those delays. There are different unique circumstances that we're faced with. I need to look into further to the clientele that the Member is referring to. If it's not the documentation that's due to the lateness, then we need to find out exactly what happened within the staffing area at that time and we need to avoid that. We need to be proactive and having those resources, client service officers in those communities, not only Yellowknife but other communities, dedicated to serve those clientele. That's our priority. Mahsi.
MS. BISARO: Thanks to the Minister. I appreciate that we want to provide the best service, but it's not happening. The Minister referenced that the client service officers deal with their clients, they try to have a relationship with them and that's all well and good, but in several instances now, I have had constituents tell me that their client service officer has changed and they have not been advised. They don't know that that's happened until they present their documents the next month for the next month's payment, things get held up and somebody tells the oh, by the way, I'm not your client service officer anymore.
So to the Minister, I'd like to know if customer service officers are on top of their clients, if it is the goal of the division to provide good customer service, why then when a customer service officer is changed from a particular client, why is that client not advised in advance. Thank you.
HON. JACKSON LAFFERTY: Mahsi. I do agree that we need to have better communication dialogue with clientele, and we are improving in those areas. We will be providing training for the client service officers starting at the end of this month, early next month, having all of those client service officers across the Northwest Territories come in and provide training to them on best customer service satisfaction. That's our priority and we'll continue to improve in those areas. Mahsi.
MR. SPEAKER: Thank you, Mr. Lafferty. Final, short supplementary, Ms. Bisaro.
MS. BISARO: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Thanks to the Minister. I'm really glad to hear that training is going to be happening. I hope it's ongoing. I would just suggest that the Minister consider mentoring as a training tool.
My last question to the Minister has to do with late fees. If an income support cheque is late and a client is paying late fees on, say, rent or a phone, are those late fees paid for by the department because it's not the fault of the constituent? Thank you.
HON. JACKSON LAFFERTY: Mahsi. That particular area I need to look into with my department and I'll definitely get back to the Members on the outcome of that. Mahsi.
MR. SPEAKER: Thank you, Mr. Lafferty…."