How we work within government

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The questions and answers below describe how the Social Security Tribunal of Canada (Tribunal) is different from, and works with, other organizations within the federal government.

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Who does what?

When you apply for Employment Insurance (EI), Canada Pension Plan (CPP), or Old Age Security (OAS) benefits, Service Canada makes a decision on your application. It does this on behalf of the Canada Employment Insurance Commission (Commission) and Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC).

The Commission is in charge of EI claims.

ESDC is in charge of CPP and OAS benefits.

If you aren’t satisfied with the decision you get, you can ask the Commission or ESDC to reconsider. They will make a decision known as a “reconsideration decision.”

If you still aren’t satisfied with the reconsideration decision, you can appeal to us at the Tribunal. We can consider three types of appeals:

Is the Tribunal different from Service Canada, the Commission, and ESDC?

Yes.

Service Canada employees don’t work for the Tribunal. They work for the Commission and ESDC.

The Tribunal is an independent organization. We aren’t part of Service Canada, the Commission, or ESDC. We don’t have the same staff or call centre as they do.

Our independence is to your benefit. It is important that someone outside Service Canada, the Commission, and ESDC looks at whether you received the right decision about your benefits.

Where does the Tribunal do its work?

Our headquarters are in Ottawa. Our members (the people who make decisions on appeals) work in different locations across Canada.

Our in-person and some videoconference hearings take place in various Service Canada locations across the country. Teleconference and some videoconference hearings take place in a location that suits you best.

What is the Tribunal’s structure?

We have two levels of decision-making at the Tribunal: the General Division and the Appeal Division.

If you disagree with the Commission or ESDC reconsideration decision, you must first appeal to our General Division.

If you disagree with our General Division decision, you may then appeal to our Appeal Division. The Appeal Division will first decide whether to give you permission to appeal. If the answer is yes, then the Appeal Division will consider your appeal.

The General Division and the Appeal Division are separate from each other. The members who decide your appeal at the General Division are different from the members who decide your appeal at the Appeal Division.

What is the decision-making process like at the Tribunal?

To decide an appeal, our members look at the facts. At the General Division, that means they read the documents that you send us, as well as the ones we receive from the Commission or ESDC. They also listen to what you and any witnesses have to say. Then they look at the law and the facts to decide whether you are entitled to benefits. At the Appeal Division, they review the General Division decision. They decide whether the General Division made certain types of errors.

When a member is making a decision, they can talk about the legal or policy aspects of the decision with our Legal Services team or with other members. They do this so they can make the best decision they can. But no one can interfere in their decision-making process or tell the member how to decide an appeal. Each member must make their own final decision on each appeal.

What laws does the Tribunal rely on?

The Tribunal follows the rules of the Department of Employment and Social Development Act and the Social Security Tribunal Regulations.

Our members decide appeals based on the Employment Insurance Act, the Canada Pension Plan, and the Old Age Security Act, as well as the regulations that are made under those laws. Members can also consider whether these laws are in line with the Constitution, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If Parliament changes these laws, the Tribunal must apply those changes.

Can the Commission or ESDC put pressure on a Tribunal member to decide your case in a particular way?

No.

We are an independent administrative tribunal. No one can tell a member how to decide a specific appeal. This includes ministers and other politicians, the Commission, ESDC, the Tribunal Chairperson and Vice-Chairpersons, the Tribunal’s Legal Services team, and other Tribunal members.

If you appeal to the Tribunal, the Commission or ESDC can ask us, just like you can, to agree with their position and decide your appeal in their favour. This is done by filing submissions. Submissions are documents that describe the argument someone makes about why they think their position is correct. In your appeal, both you and the Commission or ESDC have a right to file submissions to argue your case. If the Commission or ESDC sends documents to the Tribunal in your appeal, then we will send a copy of those documents to you. The Tribunal listens to both parties—you and the Commission or ESDC. It treats both parties equally.

The Tribunal decides appeals based on the facts and the law only. For example, no one can ask us to dismiss an appeal just to save money for the Canada Pension Plan or Employment Insurance accounts. Also, when we overturn a Commission or ESDC reconsideration decision, no one can penalize the Tribunal or our members for doing so.

What role do the courts play in all this?

If you disagree with the Appeal Division decision, you can go to the courts—the Federal Court, Federal Court of Appeal, or Supreme Court of Canada. These courts are the next step after the Appeal Division. They can decide whether our decision is reasonable.

Who are Tribunal members? What do they do?

Tribunal members are the people who decide an appeal. Our members come from all walks of life and work from their home offices across the country.

Members are trained on what the law says and how to make it understandable. They are committed to explaining their decisions in language that is accessible to people of all backgrounds.

Members aren’t judges. A tribunal, like the Social Security Tribunal of Canada, has tribunal members. A court, like the Federal Court of Canada, has judges. We try to make our appeal process less formal and easier to understand than the courts.

How are members chosen?

First, there is an open, merit-based selection process. Next, the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion recommends candidates to Cabinet. Finally, the Governor in Council appoints members based on the Cabinet’s advice. For more information on the selection process, visit the Governor in Council appointments website.

The Governor in Council appoints full-time members and part-time members for terms that vary in length.

The Governor in Council also appoints our Chairperson and Vice-Chairpersons.

What role do Service Canada, the Commission, and ESDC play in the Tribunal’s governance structure?

They provide funding and support.

We get our funding from the federal government’s EI Operating Account, CPP Operating Account, and the Consolidated Revenue Fund for OAS cases.

Service Canada provides the facilities for our in-person and videoconference hearings across Canada.

They are parties to appeals at the Tribunal.

Just as you are a party to your appeal, so is the Commission or ESDC.

In many appeals at the Tribunal, the role of the Commission and ESDC representatives is to defend their previous decision because they feel that their decision was right.

Commission and ESDC representatives don’t have any special status at the Tribunal. You are on equal footing with them. Both parties are given the same opportunity to put their best argument forward.

Our members are impartial. They don’t favour one party over the other.

Who does the Tribunal report to?

While the Tribunal is independent in making decisions, it is still accountable. In fact, it is accountable to you, the Canadian public.

Although we are similar to the courts, we are part of the executive branch of government, not the court system. We report our progress to the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion. In turn, the Minister reports to Parliament.

We also report to the Canadian public. We provide regular updates on how we are doing through our website and other communications. For example, we report on the number of cases waiting for a decision, how long it takes to decide cases, and the changes we are introducing to simplify our appeal process and improve access to justice.

You can read more about our work in our Progress Report.

How does the Tribunal work with the Commission and ESDC?

We work closely with the Commission and ESDC to make your appeal process quicker and easier. We do this mainly by exchanging information, but also by trying to make processes more efficient (for example, by improving our case management systems).

People want to know how to get decisions about their benefits, and they want the decisions to be fair and quick. When you appeal to the Tribunal, we first have to get your file from the Commission or ESDC. Then we have to share that information with you and with any other parties to your appeal, including the Commission or ESDC.

Here are a few ways we work with different parts of the federal government:

We have these exchanges to make the system fairer, faster, and easier for people to navigate.

The Tribunal never talks about individual appeals in these meetings. We also don’t talk about any aspect of how Tribunal members decide appeals.

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