What to expect when applying for Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS)

February 20, 2018
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Over the summer we've looked at how to deal with Service Canada to get retirement benefits from both Old Age Security (OAS) and the Canada Pension Plan (CPP). As noted here and here, the Government reaches out to qualifying Canadian residents when they reach age 64, in plenty of time to start receipt of benefits at age 65. As the earlier pieces recounted, I received Service Canada letters about both OAS and CPP shortly after I turned 64 this spring.

But what about the third leg of the government retirement benefits stool? That's the Guaranteed Income Supplement or GIS: a supplement to OAS. Unlike the other programs, I did not receive a letter from Service Canada about GIS. According to Doug Runchey, a former Service Canada employee who is now president of Vancouver Island-based DR Pension Consulting, the OAS application includes a question about whether you wish to apply for GIS. If you say yes and are approved, they then send you the GIS application.

Service Canada says as of June 2017, 1.94 million seniors were receiving the GIS, roughly a third of the country's 5.93 million OAS pensioners.

Some describe GIS as "Senior's Welfare." For years, Ottawa was notorious for not going out of its way to tell low-income seniors they qualified for GIS, although this has since been rectified. In fact, Service Canada says by late fall of 2017, it will leverage tax filing data to introduce GIS automatic enrollment for low-income pensions automatically enrolled for OAS.

In the meantime, you must apply in writing for the GIS in the first year: after that it's automatic, based on your last tax return, according to Runchey. In the case of couples who qualify for both OAS and GIS, Service Canada says entitlement to the GIS is based on their combined net income the previous calendar year; however, OAS and GIS payments are made to each individual beneficiary.

Read more: What to expect when applying for GIS