| May 28, 2009

Back to HomeLegalese - May 28, 2009 Special Diet Allowance

By William A. Florence, Barrister and Solicitor, Rural Legal Services

If you have a serious medical condition, you may need a special diet to help in the management of your illness. This may create financial challenges for a lot of people, but it can be an overwhelming problem for some people who – perhaps due to the very condition that requires the special diet – are receiving benefits under the Ontario Disability Support Program or Ontario Works.

To help deal with the budgetary strain that can be caused by a medically necessary diet, these programs, (as set out in an earlier column), do offer what is referred to as a “Special Diet Allowance.” To qualify for this benefit, which currently ranges from $10.00 to $250.00, an applicant must have a medical condition that the government includes in the Special Diet Schedule. For example, an individual with diabetes would receive an additional $42 a month, and an individual with cystic fibrosis would receive $75.00 to $150.00 a month. The major difficulties with the Special Diet Schedule are: what conditions ought to be included in the Special Diet Allowance, and what amounts would be actually sufficient to help an individual cope?

At the moment, there are hundreds of individuals who are challenging the government’s handling of the Special Diet Allowance. A person who believes they have been improperly denied the allowance because their medical condition is not on the list, or not provided a sufficient amount of money under the program to meet their dietary needs, may appeal to the province’s Social Benefits Tribunal for a ruling on their individual case. But with so many appeals, it seemed a better idea to attempt to bring about changes in the program. As a result, people are turning to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal for relief arguing that the Special Diet Allowance program is actually discriminating against people on the basis of their disabilities. If the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal agrees, it has the power to order the government to change the program, whereas the Social Benefits Tribunal can only rule on a case by case basis.

The so-called “lead case” on this issue is Ball v. Ontario, an application brought before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal through the combined efforts of several Community Legal Clinics (just like Rural Legal Services, although we are not involved in this case). The clinics are arguing that not only does the program not include some medical conditions for which a special diet is required, but even for those that the program recognizes the amount of money is often not adequate – both situations amounting to a form of discrimination against the disabled that is unlawful. The final arguments in the case will not be heard until June, but the case seems to have already had some positive results as Ontario has changed the Special Diet Allowance to include Lupus and Multiple Sclerosis as eligible medical conditions. How the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal rules on this case will directly impact on the lives of many people in our province.

For further information on the Special Diet Allowance programs under Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program, you can contact Rural Legal Services.

Legalese is a column of general information and opinion on legal topics by the lawyers of Rural Legal Services, Box 359, Sharbot Lake, ON, K0H2P0, 613-279-3252, or 1-888-777-8916. This column is not intended to provide legal advice. You should contact a lawyer to determine your legal rights and obligations.

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