The excerpted article was written by Karina Roman · CBC News

Canadians forced to spend days trying to get through on Service Canada’s designated phone line to sort out problems with their employment insurance applications are sharing tips through social media and web forums — including a link to an online form that can get an agent to call back within 48 hours.

But government officials warn that if the number of people using that fast-track form increases substantially, the system will not be able to manage the volume — meaning longer waits for a call back, or perhaps no call back at all.

“There isn’t any hidden capacity in the system,” said one senior government official familiar with the situation, adding the form was created in the wake of the temporary closure of in-person Service Canada centres due to the pandemic.

“The form is not a substitute for the call centre route,” he added.

Many Canadians who applied for EI after losing their jobs due to the pandemic — and before the Canada Emergency Response Benefit was announced — say they have spent days trying to get through to an agent after an administrative snafu tied up their applications and they were told to contact Service Canada.

Those who can’t get through also can’t get paid. Many have gone weeks without receiving any benefits.

More than 2 million applications in a month

More than two million people applied for EI in March alone after economic activity shut down across the country. After that initial rush, the government redeployed 3,000 Service Canada employees to help with the call volume. Clearly that hasn’t been enough, especially on the call centre side.

Those phoning the call centre often hear an automated message telling them that call volume is too high and they must try again at another time. Callers are not given the option of requesting a call back.

“The system does not have that ability,” said the official. “Upgrades are necessary to do that and that is not a short-term fix.”

But Canadians have discovered that online callback form and have been sharing it on Facebook and Reddit, among other websites.

‘I figured it can’t hurt’

“I was up late worrying one night about how I was going to pay my rent and bills,” said Shelly Obholzer, a single mom who applied for EI but hadn’t received her money.

When she couldn’t get through to an agent over the phone, she found the form and gave it a shot.

“I figured it can’t hurt to see where it would go, considering I wasn’t able to get through (on the phone). Three days later I received a call … to my surprise it was a rep from Service Canada,” said Obholzer, adding that the agent sorted out her problem and told her to use the form again if she needed further assistance.

The form does not ask for any sensitive personal information. It asks for the applicant’s name, preferred language, location and phone number. It lists the applicant’s reasons for needing assistance; applicants can check off more than one box. There is a box at the bottom to type in details of the relevant problem.

Marina Mitchell applied for EI at the start of her maternity leave six weeks ago. She found the link to the callback form through a Google search which led her to the website of a financial and credit counselling company that was telling its clients about the form.


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