Understanding CPP Disability

As an employee in the Canadian job market, every time your employer cuts you a pay cheque, certain deductions contribute towards the Canadian Pension Plan.

The contributions made to this plan do not just provide a retirement pension. The plan offers a “disability benefit” for those who have not yet reached retirement age, if they suffer a severe and prolonged disability through injury or disease.

This protection is called “CPP Disability”.  It is only available to those who have paid into the plan for the prescribed number of years.  Someone who just entered the workforce a couple of years before the injury, has had sporadic employment, or has worked for cash “under the table” would probably not have enough contributions to be eligible.

In order to qualify for CPP Disability the person must suffer from a disability that is “prolonged” and “severe”, as defined by the law.  These words have very specific meanings to the CPP adjudicators, and you must meet both tests to qualify for the benefit.

“Prolonged” requires that your disability is accepted as essentially permanent and unlikely to improve significantly in the future.    “Severe” usually requires evidence to establish that you are unable to work at any gainful employment, and probably won’t be able to do so in the future.. 

Applicants will have to convince the CPP adjudicators not only that they cannot work now, but that they will likely be unable to return to the workforce at any time before reaching the age of retirement. So what kind of job do they mean? The definition is quite broad, some of the case law has interpreted “gainful employment” as any realistic job that you can do and meet the expectations of a reasonable employer.  It could be full or part time. 

There is another condition to qualify for CPP disability.  Depending on when you last contributed to CPP, the authorities will determine the latest “qualifying” date – that is, the latest date on which you have to prove you meet the severe and prolonged test.  For example if you applied today but you last worked 10 years ago, your last possible date to qualify will be years ago.  CPP will review your records and advise you what this date is.   You would have to prove you met the test at that time, and any conditions or injuries that happen after that date would not be considered in deciding your case.

If you do meet all of the complex qualification requirements, the amount of the benefit is determined by how much you have contributed over the years to a maximum of approximately a thousand dollars per month. The benefit is payable up to age 65, at which time regular CPP pension payments would start.

This income supplement can go a long way for someone who is suffering from a disability and cannot work as a result. An applicant should always consider contacting a qualified lawyer with expertise in this area before submitting an application, or in assisting in the appeal process to improve their chances of success in proving entitlement.

For more information about CPP Disability entitlement, see the Service Canada website:


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