When contemplating applying for CPP disability benefits, most people want to know the approximate length of time it should take to complete the application process.
This is a tricky question to answer, mainly because the time it takes will vary based on multiple factors. These factors include whether or not you’ve applied before; if you already have the medical documentation necessary from your treatment providers or if you still need to request and receive it; and whether or not you’ve already satisfied the wait time necessary for you to become qualified for the program.
In this article, as part of our Ultimate Guide to CPP Disability Benefits, I review these factors and how they affect your application timeline. I also provide a timeline for what an ideal application process might look like.
4 month application timeline
In our most common and ideal scenario, you haven't applied for CPP disability benefits yet; you’ve recently gone off of work and still have to wait the four-month period of eligibility to qualify for the CPP disability program. In this scenario, the ideal length of time that it should take you to complete the CPP application process would be four months. I say four months because that’s the specific amount of time you have to be off of work before you qualify for the CPP disability program. I suggest new applicants take advantage of all of the time they have to do so diligently and be mindful of their limitations. Working on the application in stages will give you the chance to put your best application forward with accuracy, with ease, and without burning yourself out.
The ideal timeline to apply would be 4 months. I personally would break down an application preparation into the following segments:
1 month — Gathering and preparing
Your first month should be dedicated to preparation: print off the application forms necessary to apply; book an appointment with your doctor to discuss the application and medical form; create a calendar with attainable deadlines for the entire process; and retrieve any necessary resources to help you along with the process.
The first thing I always suggest is to get your ducks in a row, so to speak. You need to make sure that you have all of the paperwork necessary for the application printed off and handy. Review all the paperwork and create a schedule with deadlines for when you will complete certain parts of the application process. Some of these tasks will include providing your CPP medical report to your treating physician who will be completing and filling out the medical report form and discussing with them any paperwork they should submit in addition to the form. This conversation could also lead to you being informed you have additional documentation you will need to retrieve yourself and submit on your own with your application — mark this down and plan a time to gather these as well.
Based on your conversation with your doctor, if there are any other records you need to order, you should submit the request during this time so you can work on the next tasks in the process while you await their receipt. Depending on the provider, attaining these records can take 4-6 weeks.
A frequently-overlooked document that you should make sure to request and submit along with your application is your pharmacy records from the time of your disability onset until present-day. Showing a history that you’ve complied with your doctor's recommended treatment and continued to fill out prescriptions is incredibly helpful.
One thing to note is if the doctor says they will submit all additional medical documents from your treatment providers and referrals on your behalf, be sure that you receive a copy of what is being sent so that you can verify nothing has been missed. Keep this copy for your records. If you keep track, you will know for certain if anything has been missed and what you might need to submit additionally if ever you receive a denial.
1 month — Filling forms
Dedicate the next month to filling out the application forms.
If there are sections in the application form that you believe aren't applicable to your situation, you may write N/A in the box. If you need more room than what is supplied in the form boxes, you may add blank letter size paper to the back of the application — just be sure to note the number/letter of the section/question you are adding the additional information for. You can do this for more than one section — and I would recommend it. You need to make sure to add as much detail as possible in the application, especially when submitting important details such as treatment. For example, if you're saying you received a treatment, be clear who the provider was, where it was given, and the date(s) you were treated.
2 weeks — Narrative statement and cover letter
While a narrative statement isn’t required by Service Canada for a complete application we believe that, when done well, it will certainly help tell a better story and fill in any gaps.
About a week and a half should be dedicated to writing your narrative statement. This allows time for you to sit down in separate scheduled writing sessions, and time to review it and make any final edits once it’s completed.
When writing your narrative statement, make sure you know the difference between a winning story and a losing story. Chip away at it in multiple sittings. This will allow you time to not overwhelm yourself and to decrease the likelihood of making mistakes or missing important key factors.
It’s important not to dedicate too much time to writing this narrative statement as you might overcomplicate and overthink it. It should be concise and to the point — briefly reviewing your personal history; education and work background; any effects your condition had on your work; why you stopped work and cannot return. Make sure to mention any changes or accommodations you have made to both your work routine and to your lifestyle because of your condition or disability. Additionally, mention when your condition arose, if your symptoms have worsened or stayed consistent, and how it continues to prevent you from being able to do any type of work (not just the type of work you were doing). Don’t go into too much detail; rather, write short and concise statements to explain what I’ve mentioned. If you’re legitimately disabled, they will be able to see it from the things listed above.
Your cover letter should take much less time than the narrative statement — about 3 to 5 days. It shouldn't be too lengthy, contrary to what people tend to believe. We suggest that your cover letter is no longer than a page. Your cover letter should list what you have included in the application package. You should also note if you’re still waiting on documents or if there’s anything else that the adjudicator should be aware of.
Chapter 6 of our CPP Disability Application Workbook explains these in even more detail, and provides both a sample cover letter and sample narrative statement.
6 weeks — Putting it all together
Schedule a time to have a trusted friend or family member review your application with you before it’s time to submit it. If you are unsure on certain tasks or how you filled out your application this would be the time to have a legal set of eyes revise your completed application and answer any questions you may have for any changes you may be considering before submitting. Therefore, you would only have left to make the necessary changes and send it off the express post with tracking so that you can confirm your documentation has indeed been received by Service Canada.
This allows time to make any final edits and changes based on the review, and time for you to send it off for submission.
It’s important to note that the above timeline and breakdown best fits the specific scenario of a first-time applicant. If this is your second application, your timeline will vary as you will have to spend requesting a copy of your original application. This can take quite some time if you don’t already have a copy; Service Canada often has delays and typically won’t be able to send your records for 4-6 weeks minimum, based on my experience.
While you wait for your original application, you can certainly get started on filling out the new forms. Be sure to do this in pencil so you can go back and correct what you may need to change based when you receive your previous application. It’s important to receive the old application and review what you’ve already submitted so that you don’t contradict what you’ve submitted in the past — Service Canada will have it on record to review and compare once they receive your new application.
One thing to consider if you’re going to reapply (as opposed to appealing the decision) is that if your first application was evaluated within the last year, you may want to request an extension on your appeal rather than restarting the process with a new application. This is because your minimum qualifying period (MQP) will be reevaluated based on the time your new application is received. If you have not worked in the time between your initial application and the new application, it can pose an issue based on the contribution requirements; often, reapplying pushes people out of the category of contributing in 3 of the last 6 years at minimum, and they no longer qualify for the benefit at all.
Another thing to consider before applying for the CPP disability benefit is if you do not have a confirmed diagnosis yet, or if your doctor is not supportive of your application. In both of these scenarios, you may find yourself having a hard time completing the application process due to the doctor either being unwilling to fill out the necessary medical report, or the doctor not having an official diagnosis or enough treatment documented for Service Canada to base their decision on. If you don’t have a doctor’s support, it will be nearly impossible to get a completed application and an approval.
Waiting for a decision
While it may only take you 4 months to do your part of the application, Service Canada’s current estimate is 170 days (or approximately 6 months) to process CPP disability applications. Service Canada doesn’t start processing your application until it's "complete" — in other words, until they have received your application and the medical report from your doctor. It’s important that you get these both sent in as soon as possible — any additional documents can be sent in later if you make it clear in your cover letter that there’s more on the way.
Need to apply for CPP Disability benefits? Download our CPP Disability Application Checklist to see the exact steps we take when helping someone apply for CPP Disability benefits.