Changes to death notice system moves slowly despite feds' bid to fast-track work - InfoNews

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Changes to death notice system moves slowly despite feds' bid to fast-track work

Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos speaks at a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, May 25, 2018. A digital overhaul to simplify how Canadians let their governments know someone has died is moving at an incremental pace with no end date in sight. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
January 24, 2019 - 12:38 PM

OTTAWA - A digital overhaul so grieving Canadians can report a loved one's death to all levels of government at the same time is moving at an incremental pace with no end date in sight.

Federal, provincial and territorial governments agreed years ago to create a one-stop shop for a death notification so Canadians didn't have to contact multiple governments who don't share the information with each other.

Documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the access-to-information law show top civil servants agreed in April 2017 that the federal government needed to fast-track work and asked the provinces and territories to help.

The existing system is "confusing, complex and time consuming," particularly when people are grieving, according to documents prepared for a June meeting of senior officials overseeing the project. The resulting hurdles — including the need to get friends, family, experts or Service Canada agents to help — sometimes affected whether a family could "pay bills or buy food."

However Employment and Social Development Canada says not all provinces are ready and can't put an estimated timeline for when the new system will be ready.

Most provinces have digitized their notification systems in the last few years, the department says, but could still benefit from some upgrades to make life easier for citizens and more easily share information.

Spokesman Christopher Simard said every province processes death notifications differently which makes a single "tell-us-once" solution more challenging.

"It is difficult to predict how long this will take given the varying degrees of readiness by province," he said. "To date, it has been determined that work will need to be accomplished on an incremental basis."

Statistics Canada preliminary figures for 2017 show there were 276,689 deaths across the country, which would be the highest on record. That number is expected to continue to go up each year as the overall population rises and the large baby boomer cohort ages into older brackets with higher mortality rates.

Provinces and territories are responsible for collecting information about a person's death and then passing on details to Service Canada, which notifies federal benefits programs to stop payments to the deceased and start payments to surviving partners.

Lags in reporting have led to benefits payments continuing past someone's death, which then requires uncomfortable collection calls from Service Canada officials that the federal government would rather avoid.

The department said in an email that between April 2017 and March 2018 there were 358 cases where there were longer than expected delays in reporting a death.

People told ESDC during consultations last year they wanted better online information and the ability to tie a social insurance number to most government dealings, so notifying one federal department meant notifying all.

The response officials came up with was what they dubbed the "bereavement bundle" to connect provincial and federal agencies through a single online window for Canadians to easily report a death.

ESDC says federal officials and provincial counterparts in British Columbia hope to get working on the project "in the near future."

In the meantime, the federal government is updating its website so it is easier for people to see what they have to do when a loved one dies, rather than expecting them to navigate several pages of details.

And federal officials are developing a prototype website that would allow people to use a death certificate to tell Ottawa about a death once and have that flow to all federal departments and agencies that need the information, particularly for tax and benefit reasons.

— Follow @jpress on Twitter.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2019
The Canadian Press

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