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I never lied, I always did what the department told me to do

Community Services tells man to repay $12,000 he received for medical needs

by Robert Devet

Richard Blake Smith owes Community Services $12,000. He did nothing wrong, he says, he just followed instructions. Now he hopes minister Joanne Bernard will reconsider. Photo Robert Devet
Richard Blake Smith owes Community Services $12,000. He did nothing wrong, he says, he just followed instructions. Now he hopes minister Joanne Bernard will reconsider. Photo Robert Devet

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) - Some days are better than others. And then some days are really bad.

In the life of Richard Blake Smith one of those really bad days occurred when early this year he made his usual trip to the pharmacy to pick up his meds and the catheters he needs to survive, and was refused.

After a year of getting his meds that way, it now appeared Community Services was not paying for the catheters or his medication, the pharmacist explained.  Never mind that the department , gave the pharmacy a verbal go-ahead when the transactions first started.

That was bad news for Smith, a stroke survivor who lives on a meager Canada Pension Plan disability benefit. He receives no  welfare other than the now terminated pharmacare.

“I am a stroke patient, but they cut me off of blood pressure medication, medication to thin my blood, all these pretty crucial drugs, and without any notice,” says Smith.

Then things got worse.

“Back in April I received a letter from Community Services that they had issued an overpayment of almost $12,000, which was for over a year’s worth of catheters and medications that were being paid for through pharmacare,” says Smith.

That means Smith now has to find a way to pay all that money back.

“Basically I did all that I was told to do by Community Services, and now I am being penalized for following their instructions, Smith says.

So what happened?  

Community Services claims that Smith should have reported that he was married.

Not true, says Smith, and anyways, it wasn’t relevant since Smith’s husband during the entire period was waiting for landed immigrant status and not able to earn any income.

“At the time I applied for the pharmacare he was my fiancĂ©, I introduced him to my social worker, they shook hands,” says Smith.  “I asked, should we apply as a couple because I was getting married in a few weeks?”  

“I was told that the marriage would not affect my support because my husband was in the immigration process,” Smith insists.

A missed deadline caused Smith to lose the ability to appeal. Smith blames stress, caused by the news of the overpayment, news he received just a few days after his father in law passed away.

“I got this letter with the news of the overpayment, and I lost it, I had a breakdown over it, and I didn't read the whole letter, and I didn't see the timeframe to respond,” Smith explains.

“The emotional stress over this whole thing has been worse than anything. I phoned my doctor in tears,” says Smith. “It’s embarrassing, the personal stuff about my sickness I have to share.”

Things are looking up, ever so slightly.

Smith’s husband now had landed immigrant status, found work, and although he doesn’t make a lot of money, the job does come with a drug plan that Smith was able to join.

But that doesn’t make that debt of $12,000 go away.

Having run out of options, Smith is directly asking Community Services minister Joanne Bernard for help. He wants her to waive the debt. The Employment Support and Income Assistance Act gives her that power if a debt causes undue hardship.

He sent that letter on October 15th, and is waiting for a response.

“It’s not my fault,” says Smith. “I never lied, I always did what the department told me to do.”

Overpayments do happen, writes department spokesperson Heather Fairbairn, but represent only three percent of the Income Assistance the Community Services provides.

“If a client is on Income Assistance, the maximum recovery amount is up to $45 per month. Clients could pay as little as $5 per month. We recognize, as well, that in some cases repayment may not be possible.  While we cannot comment on specific cases, I can confirm that Minister Bernard has waived the repayment requirement in some circumstances,” writes Fairbairn.

Smith hopes Bernard will consider the facts of the matter and say enough is enough.

“I went from working to being confined to a wheelchair and never work again,” says Smith.  “I had back surgery, I had blood in my lungs, I had a stroke, I was paralyzed on my left site, then I had back surgery all over again.”

“But all that was nothing compared with this ordeal Community Services has put me through.”


Richard Blake Smith hopes that people will email minister Joanne Bernard DCSMIN@novascotia.ca and ask her to review his case and waive his overpayment.

Click here for additional articles on Nova Scotia's Income Assistance system.

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Topics: Poverty
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