What Happens at a CPP Disability Tribunal Hearing?

If you’ve been denied CPP Disability benefits and have appealed that decision all the way to the Social Services Tribunal–General Division level, you may have your case heard in a hearing.

As we discussed in our last post, the Tribunal Member assigned to your case may make their decision in a number of different ways, one of these ways being a hearing.

Hearings normally take place by teleconference or by videoconference. In-person hearings are used sometimes but are less common, and are not currently happening due to COVID-19.

In this post, we’re going to give you an idea of what happens at a tribunal hearing.

The Basics

  • Hearings are generally scheduled for 90 minutes, but they may be longer if an interpreter is needed.
  • Although your hearing is a serious occasion with a format and rules, it’s not like being in court. The Tribunal emphasizes that hearings are more like conversations than trials.
  • Everyone will be provided with the same set of files (known as the “hearing file”). You’ll want to have a printed copy of your file with you. It’s important to read your file and familiarize yourself with the numbering system used before the hearing begins. Any documents that you want to rely on in your hearing MUST be in the file.
  • You can have food and drink with you.
  • You can ask for breaks if you need them.
  • The hearing will be recorded by the Tribunal.
  • The Tribunal is not a part of Service Canada. It’s a completely separate organization with completely separate staff from the ones who initially denied your application.

The Format

  • First, there will be some introductory/housekeeping items. Everyone present–which includes you, your lawyer or representative if you have one, the Tribunal Member, and any staff from Employment and Social Development Canada–will be introduced, and their roles will be explained.
  • You’ll be asked to affirm that you will tell the truth.
  • You or your lawyer will make a presentation. This is your opportunity to make the case for how you meet the eligibility criteria for CPP Disability benefits. Remember, you can’t rely on any documents that aren’t in the hearing file.
  • You may invite witnesses to speak in support of your case. Witnesses can’t listen to what you say during your presentation, even your spouse or other family members. The choice of whether to have witnesses, or which ones, should be made carefully.
  • The Tribunal Member will ask questions throughout the hearing.

The Decision

After the hearing ends, the Tribunal Member will review the recording and their notes and make a decision. They’ll send you their decision within a few months. Lately, the average wait time for decisions has been 21.5 days from the hearing date. Cases that are more complex may take longer.

You’ve got your decision–what if your CPP Disability benefits continue to be denied? You can apply for permission to appeal to the Social Security Tribunal–Appeal Division. We’ll cover that in an upcoming post.

Getting to the point of a Tribunal hearing is a big deal, and you’ll want to do everything possible to be prepared and confident in your strategy. Working with a lawyer provides you with a significant advantage. An experienced CPP Disability lawyer knows how to craft a persuasive and effective presentation, how to address any weaknesses or red flags in your case, and can advise you on whether witnesses will be helpful.