CPP Disability: What is a “Severe and Prolonged Disability”?

To be eligible for CPP Disability benefits, you must meet three main eligibility criteria:

  1. be under 65 years of age
  2. meet the CPP contribution requirements (through working years or provisions for staying home to care for children, contributions from a former spouse, or other mechanism for credits)
  3. have a severe and prolonged disability

Today, we’re doing a deep dive into that last piece of criteria. What qualifies as a “severe and prolonged disability”?

Let’s break that down into three parts: disability, severe, and prolonged.


When it comes to CPP Disability eligibility, what matters most about your disability is employability. To what extent does your disability affect your ability to work? That’s any work, not just the work you were previously doing, or your normal full-time employment.

A disability can be mental or physical. It can include a terminal illness, which is defined as “a terminal medical condition is a disease state that cannot be cured or adequately treated and is reasonably expected to result in death within 6 months.”

It can also include a grave condition, which is a rapidly progressing medical condition. Service Canada has a list of 32 conditions (which include types of cancer, dementia, Parkinson’s, muscular dystrophy, and others) that have a high probability of meeting the eligibility criteria, and will receive expedited processing. If your condition isn’t included in that list, you may still qualify.


Under the legislation that governs CPP Disability, having a severe disability is defined as being “incapable regularly of pursuing any substantially gainful occupation”.

In plainer language, that means that you’re usually or always unable to earn more money doing any type of work than you’d receive as a disability pension.

Put a different way, if the total annual amount you make to earn a living is more than 12 times the maximum monthly CPP disability pension amount, the work is considered to be substantially gainful.


Prolonged means that your disability is likely to be long-term and of indefinite duration or is likely to result in death. There is no concrete definition of “long-term”.

To decide whether your disability qualifies, a Service Canada medical adjudicator will look at the medical evidence, feedback on your functional limitations from you and your doctors, as well as your age, education, and work experience.

You can consult this CPP Disability Benefit Toolkit for more information.

If you’ve been denied CPP Disability benefits, we can help. Contact us today to get started.