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B.C. unfairly clawed back COVID-19 benefit to thousands during pandemic, says report

VICTORIA — A report says thousands of people in British Columbia saw their $1,000 COVID-19 benefit unfairly clawed back by the provincial government.

Ombudsperson Jay Chalke’s report says so far, 12,000 people have been told to repay their B.C. Emergency Benefit that the government said was for workers who had been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The claw back came because the government didn’t properly communicate a deadline for people to have filed their 2019 taxes to be eligible, and by the time the deadline was announced, Chalke says, 90 per cent of applicants had asked for the cash. 

The report says people were not told retroactive changes by the government made them ineligible, and Chalke wants the government to give those people a chance to file their 2019 taxes, which would allow them to keep their benefit. 

The B.C. government announced the one-time, tax-free benefit in March 2020, which paid out $653 million in benefits. 

A response contained in the report from Heather Wood, the deputy minister of finance, says the government won’t be implementing the recommendation because the benefit is an income tax refund for 2019, regardless of whether people understood that. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 21, 2023.

The Canadian Press