Barrister and Solicitor
Legal Writing and Research
Getting A Copy of Your Welfare File
Claimants and their advocates have a right to obtain a copy of the claimant's welfare file. However, the municipal welfare administrator will almost always require that the request be made through the formal Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act ('MFIPPA' or 'FOI') process. If the request is simple, individual welfare workers may be persuaded to provide copies of single documents, but even then advocates will only receive them once they have provided proper signed authorizations.
Formal FOI requests are subject to a number of exclusions (ie. deletions), such as for law enforcement and third party information. Similar FOI processes exist for most other provincial and federal government files containing personal information, such as ODSP, EI, income tax, military, prison, etc.
I commonly request a welfare file when a case involves financial issues or past non-compliance by a client, such as an undeclared spouse or undeclared income. Advocates will find that having and reviewing the file in detail will often clarify a confusing history from a client, and at least explain welfare's behaviour. It is common to find within the file materials or worker notes that exonerate a claimant's behaviour or show that they were in compliance after all.
Below is a standard instruction package on making an FOI welfare (Ontario Works) request.
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION (FOI) REQUEST re Personal Information
- Typically an FOI request should be sent to the same office that administers your welfare file (call to inquire as to local practice). Sometimes however, particularly in larger municipalities, the FOI functions are centralized. For instance, in the City of Toronto, the address is:
Corporate Access and Privacy
Toronto City Hall
100 Queen St West
After sending the request to the proper office with the required application fee (fee waivers are discussed below), the 'head' (the institution you make the request from) will then respond with a letter quoting additional fees (if any) and what records are going to be withheld. If no fees are going to be charged then the released records will be sent directly.
- Fees and Fee Waivers
There is an initial $5.00 fee for a personal information request which should be made payable to the municipality (eg. City of Toronto).
If the person to whom the records relate is on social assistance (or otherwise cannot afford the additional copying fees) they may request a 'fee waiver' from the record-holder - but the circumstances must be explained with the request.
(name of applicant)
(date of birth)
(9-digit welfare number)
[ ] Please find enclosed payment of the $5.00 application fee. OR
[ ] I request a fee waiver of the application and subsequent fees
because (eg. I am on welfare):
I hereby request copies of (check one):
[ ] the entire welfare (Ontario Works) file held by your institution
and / or (strike out as applicable)
[ ] the following records:
I authorize and request that you forward these documents to myself at: