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, 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.
This article is part of our CPP Disability Application Guide.
Four-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 would be four months. I say four months because that’s how long you have to be off work before you qualify for the CPP. I suggest new applicants take advantage of all this time to ensure their application is as strong as possible. In other words, don’t procrastinate — we all know how last-minute school assignments turn out.
We suggest working on your application in stages. This will alleviate some of our stress and give you loads of time to put together a solid application. The following is how I personally recommend breaking down the process.
Breaking Down the Process Into Manageable Chunks
One 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 ensure that you have all the paperwork for the application printed off and handy. Review all the paperwork and create a schedule with deadlines. Some of these tasks will include providing your CPP medical report to your treating physician and talking to them about whether there is any other paperwork they should submit in addition to that form.
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. This is so you can work on the next tasks in the process while you await their receipt. Depending on the provider, it can take 4-6 weeks to get these records.
Pharmacy records are frequently overlooked. But we highly recommend submitting them along with your application. Showing a history that you’ve complied with your doctor’s recommended treatment and continued to fill out prescriptions is incredibly helpful to your application. Make sure these records span from the time of your disability onset until the present day.
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 the present day. Showing a history that you’ve complied with your doctor’s recommended treatment and continued to fill out prescriptions is incredibly helpful.
Another thing to note is you should keep track of all your records — even if you aren’t sending them in yourself. Doctors often submit medical documents on your behalf. While this is great, we highly recommend getting a copy of what is being sent so you can verify that nothing has been missed. Keep this copy for your records. If you keep track, you will know if anything was forgotten.
One 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 a blank piece of paper to the back of the application. However, make 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 treatment, be clear about who the provider was, where it was given, and the date(s) you were treated.
1.5 weeks — Narrative Statement
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 separately scheduled writing sessions. As well as 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 decrease the likelihood of making mistakes or missing 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. And should briefly review 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 had to make to your work routine and lifestyle as a result of your disability. You should also discuss when your condition arose, if your symptoms have worsened or stayed consistent, and how it continues to prevent you from doing 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.
Five days — Cover letter
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 a sample narrative statement.
Six weeks — Putting it all together
Schedule a time to have a friend or family member go over your application. However, if you are unsure about something, this would be the time to get a lawyer to review your application. They can look it over, suggest changes and answer any questions you may have. And since you have six weeks, you will have loads of time to make adjustments based on their feedback.
Once you are satisfied with your application, you are good to send it off for submission. Give yourself a pat on the back and relax — you deserve it.
Waiting for a Decision
While it may take four months to do your part, depending on how you apply, it can take Service Canada anywhere from 7 to 120 days to process CPP disability applications.
According to current estimates, it will take:
- 7-14 days for online applications
- Within 120 days for applications submitted in person at a Service Canada Centre
- Within 120 days for applications submitted by mail
However, it may take longer if your application isn’t complete. Meaning they won’t process your application if they haven’t received your complete application or 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.
A Note for Those Who Are Reapplying
It’s important to note that the above timeline and breakdown are the best fit for the specific scenario of a first-time applicant. If this is your second application, your timeline will vary because you will have to request a copy of your original application. This can take quite some time if you don’t already have a copy. Based on my experience, Service Canada takes a minimum of 4-6 weeks to send your records.
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 things once you receive it. It’s important to review your old application. This is because 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.
Consider requesting an extension on your appeal
If your first application was evaluated within the last year, you might want to request an extension on your appeal instead of 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. In many cases, 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 have a hard time completing the application. If you don’t have a doctor’s support, it will be nearly impossible to get a completed application and approval.
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