This is your online guide on how to apply for CPP disability in 2022.
The CPP disability application is how you request CPP disability payments. However, getting approved for benefits can be hard. A 2016 audit of CPP disability found that Service Canada denied 57% of initial applications. And of those who appealed that denial, 65% were denied again. Those are tough odds. However, I know that with the right strategy, all legitimate claims can be approved. And choosing the right strategy starts with educating yourself about the application process.
I wrote this guide to give you an overview of how to apply for CPP disability. I answer the most common questions. Links to all the forms are included. And I lay out a 7-step process you can use for your application. This article is a shortened version of my book, The CPP Disability Application Workbook. Read to the end of the article to see how you can get your own copy.
This article is part of our 2022 Guide to CPP Disability.
Let’s get started.
What is the CPP Disability Application?
The CPP disability application is how you request CPP disability benefits. You apply by filling out Service Canada’s official forms. This is also called filing a claim for benefits. Service Canada reviews your application documents. Then, they decide to approve or deny your application. Service Canada decides your claim based on the information in your application. So, if you haven’t given Service Canada the right information, they will deny your claim.
CPP Disability Application Forms
The CPP disability application includes two forms:
- Application Form
- Medical Report Form
Service Canada has an official application form for CPP disability. You must use the most current version when applying for benefits. There are two versions of this application form: A paper version and the online version.
The paper application is a 19-page form that you fill out by hand. Then, you have to mail this to Service Canada. You cannot use email or fax.
The online version is new. You fill out a form in your My Service Canada portal. When finished, you click submit, and the form is automatically sent in. To use the online form, you must have a My Service Canada account. We strongly recommend you open this account, even if you plan to submit the paper application.
The CPP disability medical report is the second part of the application. It’s a form that your doctor or nurse practitioner fills out. Service Canada uses this report to decide if you have a “severe and prolonged” disability. Your doctor must fill out a paper form and then mail it directly to Service Canada on your behalf. You will need to give your doctor a printed copy of the form.
How Hard Is It to Get CPP Disability?
People always ask me: How hard is it to get CPP disability? There are many myths about CPP disability. Some people believe it is impossible to get approved. However, others are overconfident and believe that a supportive doctor is all it takes. Both beliefs are wrong.
CPP disability can be hard to get. How hard depends on a number of factors. Your medical condition. Past and future treatment. Work history. Attempts to stay in the workforce. Your attitude and level of self-awareness. I cannot stress the importance of having the right attitude and self-awareness.
You can lose a winnable case. My family learned this the hard way when my grandfather lost his disability claim when I was ten. I believe you can win any legitimate claim if you present it properly. However, some cases are harder to present than others. The good news is that you have opportunities for appeal. This is why we support people in completing their own applications.
How Long Does it Take to Get Approved for CPP Disability?
It takes between 6 to 18 months for your CPP disability application to get approved. This includes the time for you to prepare the application and the initial decision. It also includes any appeals. The time to get approved depends on how long it takes you to present your case properly.
If you present your case poorly, then Service Canada will continue to deny it. Then, you have to appeal. These denials and appeals are the biggest sources of delay. But, you can reduce delays by learning about the best strategy for your situation. Knowing how to present your case properly is the best way to get earlier approval.
To learn more, check out our article: How long should it take to do a CPP disability application?
What’s New for 2022?
The biggest change for 2022 is the online application. It started in 2020 but has really improved over the last two years. We now recommend that you apply online if you can.
How to Apply for CPP Disability in 7 Steps
The seven steps below on how to apply for CPP disability are from my book ‘The CPP Disability Application Workbook.‘ We give you a summary of the main points, but the Workbook is a more detailed guide. Read to the end of this article to see how you can get your free copy of the Workbook.
1: Make sure it’s the right time to apply
You should only apply when there is a chance Service Canada will approve your claim. Therefore, the timing of when you apply is important. So, before you apply, ask yourself the following questions:
- Have I worked enough to meet the minimum qualifying period?
- Are my medical condition, disability, and treatment documented?
- Does my doctor support me?
- Have I done everything possible to stay in the workforce?
If you answer ‘no’ to any of these questions, then you may have a problem. Let’s look at each in more detail.
Have I worked enough to meet the minimum qualifying period?
You must meet the CPP disability contribution requirements to qualify for benefits. So, before you stop work, you must know if your recent contributions are enough to qualify you for CPP disability. You must have worked 4 of the last six years before you go off on disability. Or, 3 of the last five years if you have 25 years or more of contributions. If you don’t meet either of these requirements, then you can’t be approved for benefits, no matter how disabled you are. You may work a bit longer to get enough contributions to qualify for benefits.
Are my medical condition, disability, and treatment documented?
Service Canada expects to see medical records confirming your condition, diagnosis, and treatment. The more comprehensive the records, the better. And not just your recent medical records. If you have a chronic medical condition, then your medical records for the last two years can be very important. Medical records can paint a picture of your life in the year leading up to when you had to stop work.
Ideally, your medical records will say how your medical condition affects your work. They will show the treatment you have undergone and discuss future plans or treatment. You need to show that you cooperated with your doctor. And that you have done everything possible to get better. If you are still struggling at work, then now is the time to make sure your doctor records this in your medical file.
Do you have your doctor’s support?
You need your doctor’s support. Without it, Service Canada will almost never approve your claim. I say almost never because it’s possible to still win (we have done it). I don’t recommend it, however. It is not a strategy for success.
Try to keep working until your doctor recommends you stop. But what if your doctor won’t support you? This is a difficult situation that you need to handle very carefully. Understand that doctors are humans. There is a wide range of attitudes, competence, and bias among individual doctors. So, you have a few options for how to deal with your doctor.
Sometimes your doctor just needs more convincing. With chronic illness, it’s hard to say when it becomes unreasonable for someone to keep working. It’s hard for a doctor to know when you cross the line from being reasonably able to work in discomfort to it being unreasonable for you to work. Sometimes, you can show the doctor that you did all you could to remain employed. A lawyer with experience in disability benefits cases can give you examples of how you can show your doctor that you have done all you can do. There is no dishonesty or trickery involved.
Sometimes your doctor is incompetent or biased. Don’t jump to this as your first conclusion, as many people do. It is more likely that they just need more convincing. But, if this turns out to be the reason, then you need to find a new doctor. This is often easier said than done. And, having no doctor can be worse than having a doctor that doesn’t support you.
Have I done everything possible to stay in the workforce?
One of Service Canada’s most common reasons for denial is that you didn’t try hard enough to stay at work. It is also one of the most common reasons you will lose your case at the Tribunal. The younger you are, the more important this is. You have to satisfy Service Canada and the Tribunal Judge that you have done everything possible to try to keep working. You need to have records to show you tried easier jobs. Show them that you reduced your work hours or took on easier job duties. Ultimately, you have to be able to show that you tried. It’s not enough to just say you did.
2: Get the CPP Disability forms
You believe it is the right time to apply. Now, you need to get the application forms. There are two forms:
- The Application Form
- The Medical Report
You can download them below. You can also pick up printed copies at any Service Canada Centre, or you can use Service Canada’s online form. To use the online form, you need to register for a My Service Canada Account. Once you do that, you can log in and click on Canada Pension Plan. You will see an option for CPP disability and an application form.
- Download: ‘CPP Disability Application Form‘ (PDF)
- Download: ‘CPP Disability Medical Report Form‘ (PDF)
Note: the forms listed above are for people with non-terminal illnesses. If you have a terminal illness, you will need to complete these forms instead:
- Download: ‘CPP Disability Terminal Illness Application Form’ (PDF)
- Download: ‘CPP Disability Terminal Illness Medical Attestation Form‘ (PDF)
3: Fill out the Application Form
Now the fun begins. You need to fill out the application. We recommend that you start with a paper application. Even if you plan to use the online form to submit your application. It is always best to start with a practice application, then prepare a final version to send in.
Both the paper and online CPP disability applications are divided into sections from A to I. Let’s briefly review each section:
A – Information about you
This is the easiest section. In A1 you fill in your personal information and address.
A2 asks if you have ever applied or received benefits from the Quebec Pension Plan. This is important because the Quebec Pension Plan differs from the Canada Pension Plan. You can’t make applications under both the QPP and the CPP.
B – Contributions to the Canada Pension Plan
This section deals with information Service Canada needs to determine your eligibility. If you don’t meet the basic requirements for eligibility, then this section allows Service Canada to figure out if you qualify for any of the exceptions. The following exceptions can increase your eligibility credits:
- B1 Credit Splitting. This only applies if you are separated or divorced from a former spouse.
- B2 Pension credits from living/working in another country. This only applies if you paid into the national pension plan of another country (e.g. paid into the US Social Security Program while working in the US).
- B3 Child Rearing Pension Credits. This applies to anyone who was out of the workforce to raise a child under age seven and was the primary caregiver for the child.
Take your time to consider if any of these exceptions apply to you. Having additional pension credits from these exceptions can be the difference between being eligible to apply and lacking the credits to apply.
C – Information about your medical condition(s)
This is perhaps the most important section of the Application. It deals with your medical conditions, medical tests, past and future treatment, and a functional assessment of your abilities.
Take special care with C1, which asks when you feel you could no longer work because of your medical condition. Many people will simply put the last day they actually worked, but that is often not the right date to use if you have struggled and been ineffective at work for some time. You need to choose the correct date because it will affect your eligibility for benefits. In other words: choosing the wrong date can result in you being ineligible for benefits, even if you are disabled.
D – Information about your doctor or nurse practitioner
Take the time to make sure you fill out the correct name and contact information for your doctor or nurse practitioner. Often Service Canada will want to contact your doctor for more information, and if you have errors in this section, it can cause delays.
E – Information about your work
Take care while filling out this section, as some answers will almost certainly disqualify you from being approved for benefits. For example, in E1, if you say you have not stopped working completely, this will be a big red flag for Service Canada. You would need to make sure that you provide context and an explanation for why you are still able to work in a part-time capacity. If you can work enough to earn $16,000 or more per year, they will deem you capable of gainful employment. Therefore, you are ineligible for CPP disability benefits.
Section E7 is also very important, but we see many people get it wrong. It asks if you have ever had to do a lighter job or a different type of work. Many people will just say “No” when they should be saying “Yes.” Think of this question more broadly can help — “Have you ever had to change how you do your job because of your disability or limitations?”
If you are applying for CPP disability and your disability is from a chronic condition, then the answer to this question is always “Yes.” You have likely struggled at work for months or years and would have made some changes to your work routine — whether it was “official” or not. Were you getting help from co-workers? Did you stop doing certain job duties or avoid them? Take a lot of time with this section, as it is one of the most important sections of the application.
F – Benefits for your children
Again, the biggest mistake we see people make with this section is rushing and not filling in all of the information with careful detail. Make sure you have your children’s social security numbers included. This is necessary for the children to be approved for benefits. So, if your child doesn’t have a social insurance number, you need to get one before you can put the number on your application.
G – Payment information
Service Canada only pays by direct deposit, so you need to fill in this information. Make sure you have it correct, or it may result in delays in payment or payment processing errors.
H – Consent for Service Canada to obtain personal information
From a legal perspective, this is a very broadly worded consent for the release of personal information. Normally, I would never want a client to sign such a broadly worked consent because of the potential for abuse. If it were an insurance company asking, I would never recommend that a client sign such a broad release. However, we have never known Service Canada or its agents to abuse this type of consent for personal information. They have worded it broadly for convenience and expediency so they can go and get the information they need without having to check back with you on multiple different consent forms.
I believe it’s best to give Service Canada authority to collect information on your behalf. In our experience, Service Canada’s medical adjudicators are objective and use this consent to seek information or documents that would support your claim rather than to abuse the consent to seek only information to build a case against you. That has never been our experience with the medical adjudicators — although I suppose a rogue adjudicator could exist.
I – Declaration and signature
If you are capable of signing your own application, then that is what you should do. This form allows for an authorized representative to sign on your behalf; however, we have experienced very inconsistent treatment of this by various medical adjudicators. Some insist that only the applicant can sign, even though this is clearly not what is indicated on the form.
Sign the form with a pen rather than an electronic signature. We have attempted to use electronic signatures with legally compliant certificates of authentication. Sometimes Service Canada still rejects these. It’s better to avoid this problem and potential delays by signing it in ink.
4: Get your doctor to fill out the Medical Report Form
First, you need to make sure your doctor has a copy of the form. Many doctors will have extra copies at their offices. However, you may need to give a paper copy to them. Or email them an electronic copy.
The medical report is one of the most important parts of your application. However, we encounter a lot of misconceptions about what makes a “good” medical report. Don’t make these mistakes.
What not to do
Many people believe that a doctor just needs to say the magic words: “My patient suffers from a severe and prolonged disability.” But there are never magic words when it comes to qualifying for disability benefits. Anyone who has worked with disability claims with the CPP disability program or other insurance companies will tell you that. The CPP administration will give the doctor’s opinion very little credit unless they give reasons and supporting information for their conclusion.
A common mistake that doctors make is when they simply write that you are disabled or suffer a severe and prolonged disability. Then, they provide very little supporting information or give vague statements about your symptoms, impairments, and prognosis. This is a recipe for disaster.
Rather than look for magic words, the CPP adjudicators will look at the totality of your doctor’s information and opinions as it relates to your specific medical condition and impairments. It’s much better when your doctor gives comprehensive descriptions of your diagnosis, symptoms, prognosis, and physical and mental restrictions.
Your doctor should explain how your symptoms and impairments interfere with your ability to work on a daily basis. Your doctor’s opinions must be well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. The better your doctor explains the rationale for his or her opinion that you are disabled, the more likely it is that the CPP adjudicator will accept the opinion.
The Medical Report is the bare minimum medical evidence that you need to submit with your application. CPP disability will approve applications based only on the Medical Report, but that tends to happen when your diagnosis makes it clear that your condition is severe and prolonged. Such conditions include AIDS, aneurysm, brain tumour, cancer, carcinoma, cerebral hemorrhage, cerebral infarction, cerebrovascular accident (CVA), coma, end-stage amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), end-stage degenerative neuromuscular disorders, glioma, Guillain-Barré syndrome, Hodgkin’s disease, leukemia, liver failure, lymphoma, a massive stroke, melanoma, muscular dystrophy, myeloma, neoplastic disease, renal failure, and sarcoma.
On the other hand, if your medical condition can have a range of severity and duration, then you will need to gather other medical evidence in addition to the Medical Report. Such conditions include Fibromyalgia, chronic pain, Multiple Sclerosis, heart conditions, mental illness, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, Epilepsy, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Lyme Disease, Lupus, Spinal stenosis, Osteoarthritis, Degenerative Disc Disease, and more.
Step 5: Prepare a Cover Letter
You should write a cover letter to go with your application forms. Technically a cover letter is not required for your application. But, when it’s done right, it can improve your chances of success.
Your cover letter should be addressed to your local Service Canada Office. It should reference your name and social insurance number. The first paragraph should say that you are attaching the forms to apply for CPP disability benefits. You then list all the forms and information that you have attached or uploaded.
In the main body of the letter, you should give more information about your education, work history, and the impact of your disability over time. When describing your medical conditions and disability, explain how your medical condition and impairments gradually made it harder and harder to work with each passing month. Explain what you did to try and stay in the workforce. Did you try an easier job? Did you reduce your work hours? Talk about why changes didn’t work. Explain how your disability and impairments have restricted your home life. Including restrictions on doing housework and other leisure activities.
Don’t overdo it. A big mistake is to write too much information. Also, don’t focus on trying to make legal arguments. This letter is your opportunity to tell your story. And to allow the CPP adjudicator a much better understanding of how your disability has affected your life.
6: Assemble your application package
You should now have everything ready to go to apply for CPP disability benefits. The organization is important, so gather everything together. You should now have the following completed:
- CPP Disability Benefits Application — completed and signed
- A Medical Report Form
- A signed cover letter
When submitting a paper application, ensure your final version is clean and neat. If you are applying online, use the practice application to fill in the online application. Make sure you include all information. You can upload an extra sheet if you run out of room with the online form.
7: Mail your application package to Service Canada or submit the online form
You’re almost there! The last step is to mail your complete application documents to Service Canada. Service Canada has designated regional CPP disability application processing centres. So, it is important that you send your application to the right one.
Now, this is important. Do not try to courier your application to the designated Service Canada office. They will not accept it. You can get around this by sending it by Canada Post Express Post. That is like a courier and gives you a tracking number, so you have proof it was sent. And you get a notice when it arrives. Do not send your application by regular mail!
If you are applying online, you can skip the mailing completely. You submit the online form. You can also upload PDF copies of your medical report and other documents. If you run into problems uploading some documents. Or don’t have a way to scan them. You can still mail in documents using Express Post. Just make sure to include a cover letter that references your name and social insurance number. Or reference your CPP disability claim number if Service Canada has assigned it.
Service Canada will confirm receipt of your online form or paper application. Then, they’ll assign your application to a medical adjudicator. This person will review your application and decide to approve or deny it. You may have to wait up to six months to get a decision.
We talked about how to apply for CPP disability — but do you want to learn more? Sign up for our FREE CPP Disability Application Workbook Course to get access to the most comprehensive guide to applying for CPP disability.
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