CESB applicants report weeks-long payment delays as CRA rolls out anti-fraud checks

This is very concerning news for people in Ottawa.

Ottawa steps up efforts to detect and deter fraud in its billion-dollar COVID-19 personal income support programs, some Canadians say their benefit payments have been on hold for weeks due to delays in the government’s identity-check process.

“I’m feeling extremely anxious, … like I don’t know how this is gonna go,” says John, a master’s student at the University of Ottawa, who says he hasn’t been able to collect his Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) since mid-June.

When John Delagado logged online to re-apply for the CESB, a bright blue banner on the dashboard of his Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) account told him to call a validation and identity protection service line, he says.

But despite speaking to three different agents in the following week who said the CRA would follow up to verify his identity, Paul says that still hasn’t happened. Five weeks later, his application remains blocked, he says.

“I wonder how many thousands of people are like me, just sitting there wondering, ‘What the hell?’”

John, who lives with several mental health disabilities, says he’s counting on the federal aid to make up for income lost due to the coronavirus pandemic.

He was transitioning out of school into working in the mental health sector when the pandemic hit, and nearly all of his work went up in smoke, he says. He first applied for the student benefit program in May and received the maximum $2,000 amount because of his disabilities.

The May payment helped pay the bills,John says, and after his work barely picked up in June, he decided to apply again. But as he awaits the fate of his second payment, he’s stretching out what’s left of the first.

Many others claiming to be applicants or recipients to the CESB or the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) have reported similar delays and concerns about the CRA’s validation and identity line on social media.

Ottawa resident Chris Ferrier, for example, says the system blocked him from re-applying for the CERB for the same June 7 to July 4 pay period.

Ferrier, a tech support worker who says he lost work in March due to the pandemic, says he had applied for and received the $2,000-per-month benefit for the previous three pay periods without a hitch.

Ferrier says it took more than a month to resolve the issue, despite dialling up the CRA validation line every single day starting on June 10.

“First it was within two to five days, then three to 10 and then they stopped giving time frames,” he says.

Concerns about identity theft, organized crime

The reports of payment delays come after the federal government increased efforts to weed out fraudulent applications from its CERB and CESB programs, which the Finance Department expects will cost taxpayers more than $85 billion.

When it rolled out the programs, Ottawa opted for attestation-based applications, with the system designed to automatically approve funding, in an effort to quickly deliver emergency funds to millions of Canadians left without income amid the pandemic.

Federal officials said applicants’ eligibility would be reviewed later, suggesting they weren’t worried about high fraud levels.

But concern about scams has increased in recent weeks. In June, the CRA told a House of Commons committee it had already detected a number of potentially fraudulent applications for benefits, including from people believed to be involved in organized crime.

“The CRA recently implemented controls requiring certain applications to be validated before they are processed,” the agency told Global News in a statement, confirming it launched the toll-free validation and identity protection service line in early June.