Access to Benefits for Hard-to-Reach Populations

Opening Statement before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts

Access to Benefits for Hard-to-Reach Populations

(Report 1—2022 Reports of the Auditor General of Canada)

25 October 2022

Karen Hogan, Fellow Chartered Professional AccountantFCPA, Fellow Chartered AccountantFCA
Auditor General of Canada

Mr. Chair, thank you for this opportunity to discuss our report on the access to benefits for hard-to-reach populations, which was tabled in the House of Commons on 31 May 2022. I would like to acknowledge that this hearing is taking place on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people. Joining me today is Nicholas Swales, the principal who was responsible for the audit.

The Government of Canada delivers several income support benefits to low‑income Canadians to help lift them out of poverty and reduce inequality. These programs can achieve their goals only if those who are eligible to receive benefits are aware of them and can access them.

The Canada Revenue Agency and Employment and Social Development Canada know that some individuals are not accessing the benefits available to them. These individuals include low‑income members of groups who are not easily served through regular channels, such as Indigenous people, seniors, newcomers to Canada, and people with disabilities. These hard-to-reach populations require more help from the government.

For this audit, we wanted to know whether the Canada Revenue Agency and Employment and Social Development Canada ensured that hard-to-reach populations were made aware of, and could access, the Canada Child Benefit, the Canada Workers Benefit, the Guaranteed Income Supplement, and the Canada Learning Bond.

We found that the government lacked a clear and complete picture of the people who were not accessing benefits. The government estimated that overall, a high proportion of low-income people were receiving the benefits. However, the agency and department overstated the rates of people accessing benefits because they did not always account for people who had not filed income tax returns. Filing a tax return is required to access most benefits.

Since 2018, the agency and department have increased their efforts to raise awareness of benefits among people who most need them. Outreach activities have focused on hard-to-reach populations, who are more likely to have modest incomes and often face barriers to accessing benefits. These populations include people who may be unaware of available benefits or reluctant to interact with government organizations.

We found that, despite these efforts, the department and agency had not developed measures to assess the impacts of outreach activities. For example, they could not measure increases in the rate of benefit take‑up for targeted groups over time or in related impacts, such as increased tax filing by those groups over time.

Finally, we found that service approaches for helping people who required more personalized support were not sufficiently integrated between the agency and department. The agency and department had initiated some pilot projects to work with community groups on more individualized support, but they had not established an integrated service delivery approach.

Better collection and use of disaggregated data would improve their ability to understand and identify barriers and target outreach. Statistics Canada is an important partner in data collection, measurement, and analysis.

Although the agency and department have taken some action, they still have not done enough to connect people with benefits. As a result, they are failing to improve the lives of some individuals and families who may need these benefits the most.

We made 3 recommendations as a result of this audit. The Canada Revenue Agency, Employment and Social Development Canada, and Statistics Canada agreed with these recommendations.

Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening remarks. We would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have. Thank you.