What are Canada Pension Plan disability benefits?

The Canada Pension Plan (CPP) has been in effect since 1966. It is a national plan based on contributions from workers and employers in Canada. It is best known for its retirement pension, but also provides survivor, death and disability benefits to CPP contributors and their families.

The CPP Disability program is the largest long-term disability insurance program in Canada. Its primary role is to replace a portion of income for CPP contributors who cannot work because of a disability that is both severe and prolonged (as defined by the CPP legislation).

Benefits are paid monthly to eligible applicants and their dependent children.


How do I qualify for CPP disability benefits?

To qualify you must:

  1. be under age 65;
  2. have earned a specified minimum amount and contributed to the CPP while working for a minimum number of years; and
  3. have a severe and prolonged disability as defined by the CPP legislation.

To remain eligible, you must continue to have a disability according to the CPP legislation.


What is the definition of disability used by Canada Pension Plan?

Section 42(2) of the Canada Pension Plan defines disability. It says that:

(a) a person shall be considered to be disabled only if he is determined in prescribed manner to have a severe and prolonged mental or physical disability, and for the purposes of this paragraph,

  1. a disability is severe only if by reason thereof the person in respect of whom the determination is made is incapable regularly of pursuing any substantially gainful occupation, and
  2. a disability is prolonged only if it is determined in prescribed manner that the disability is likely to be long continued and of indefinite duration or is likely to result in death.

In order to qualify for CPP disability benefits you must show that your disability is both severe and prolonged.

There are several decisions from the Federal Court and the Pension Appeals Board that have interpreted the legislative criteria. Here are some examples:

This requires a realistic review of the “whole person” – the person in respect of whom the determination is made. This means that age, education level, past work, and life experience should be taken into consideration. It is also not a medical diagnosis of a condition that determines disability but its effect on the person.

Incapable means that as a result of the disability, an individual would not be able to work in any substantially gainful occupation. Incapable of work does not relate to profitability. It must be established that an individual’s disability directly affects his or her capacity to work.

This means that the limitations associated with a disability are persistent to the point of being continuous or uninterrupted. This means that you cannot commit yourself to a work schedule with reliability or predictability. Predictability is the essence of regularity.

Pursuing means to actually engage in an occupation. Pursuing is not used in the sense of seeking work. A person who is not looking for work may be capable of or work and, conversely, a person who is looking for work may, because of their disability, not be able to “pursue” work.

Substantially Gainful Occupation
A substantially gainful occupation means an occupation where the remuneration for the work performed and the services rendered was at a substantially gainful amount. The substantially gainful amount is a benchmark of earnings that likely indicates whether a person is showing regular capacity for work. This does not mean that you cannot work at your old job, but that you cannot work at any job – full or part time – for which you are or could become reasonably qualified.

Prolonged is only considered after the “severe” criterion is met; that is, only after it has been determined that a person has a severe disability. An applicant must demonstrate that both the “severe and prolonged” criteria are simultaneously met. This means that you do not expect to be able to return to work. if there is a reasonable expectation of recovery, you will not qualify.