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!
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