Canadian family living in New Zealand receives COVID-19 benefit cheque addressed to dead daughter

A Canadian family that has been living in New Zealand for the past 18 years say they have received a COVID-19 benefit cheque addressed to their disabled daughter who died in 2009, despite never applying for any financial aid.

Sandra Walsh and her family moved from Winnipeg to Christchurch, N.Z. in 2003 with their four children. At the time, their youngest daughter Bonnie, who has Down syndrome, was one year old.

Walsh explained in a Zoom interview with CTVNews.ca in March that Bonnie was diagnosed with cancer two years after arriving in New Zealand. Bonnie later died in 2009, at the age of seven.

"Imagine my surprise to find a letter from the Government of Canada in our letterbox, here in Christchurch, a cheque for $600," Walsh said.

Walsh said there was no information included with the cheque, the memo line only read, "Benefit Payment," and it was addressed to Bonnie.

Walsh said the family notified the Canadian consulate in New Zealand when Bonnie died and filled out the corresponding paperwork back in 2009. She says the family later received a death certificate for Bonnie, as well as her annulled passport.

Walsh said they have not received any mail from the Canadian government since.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Walsh said the family did not apply for any financial aid through the Canadian government, as they were not living in Canada and didn’t need the support.

"I wouldn't even think to do that, because we don’t really have a pandemic here in New Zealand," Walsh said.

"It just seems odd that the Canadian government would send pandemic support to somebody who’s living in New Zealand," she added.

While Walsh acknowledges there was clearly a mix-up in issuing the cheque to a dead Canadian who lived in another country, she said she is confused as to how no one caught the error before the cheque landed in New Zealand.

"It just takes a lot of money to make the cheque, do all that work and then send it," she said, adding that those resources could have been spent on other Canadians who are actually alive and in need.

PANDEMIC AID

Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) told CTVNews.ca on Tuesday that the benefit cheque addressed to Bonnie was a one-time payment of $600 for persons with disabilities to help with the additional costs incurred amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Many Canadians are eligible for this one-time payment, including Canadians with a Disability Tax Credit (DTC) certificate, and recipients of the Canada Pension Plan Disability (CPPD), Quebec Pension Plan disability pension (QPPD), and seven Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) benefits as at July 1, 2020," ESDC said in an emailed statement.

"Because children with disabilities could be eligible for the DTC, some would have received the one-time benefit."

ESDC explained that the payment was based on the Canada Revenue Agency’s records and said the agency "will only have information on the passing of individual if a family member has contacted the CRA or Service Canada in order to inform them of the death of the child."

"If children had no identifiable Canada Child Benefit (CCB) parent or guardian on file at the CRA as of the July 1, 2020, the cheque would have been written out in their name," ESDC said.

According to ESDC, the one-time payment was issued to approximately 1.7 million Canadians with disabilities.

The department did not provide information on whether it had been notified of any other cheques sent out in error, but said Walsh's case is "very rare and unfortunate."

"The Government of Canada is deeply sorry for this family’s immeasurable loss," ESDC said.

While Walsh says the family notified the government of Bonnie’s death through the Canadian consulate in New Zealand back in 2009, she said she was not told it was her responsibility to contact separate departments within the government, including the CRA, to make sure each one knew Bonnie had died.

"Being in New Zealand we did the appropriate thing by contacting the Canadian consulate here, who informed us we could file the death of our child with them and they would forward the information on to the government. The consulate acknowledged that it was an overwhelming experience and they would take it from there," Walsh explained.

Since the family left Canada when Bonnie was a baby, Walsh said she wouldn’t expect her daughter to have any sort of record with the CRA.

"Given that we had never received a Disability Tax Credit certificate nor any payment for our child with a disability and left the country when she was one year of age, I'm not sure how there would be a record of a Disability Tax Credit certificate from which to issue a payment," Walsh said.

Walsh said she hopes that other parents don’t have to "experience the joy of a letter addressed to their dead kid" because they didn’t notify the CRA of their death.

Since Bonnie would have turned 19 this upcoming June, Walsh says she understands why the cheque would have been issued in her name. However, she said it does not make sense that the government would then said the payment to her parent’s address in New Zealand.

COULD HAVE BEEN 'VERY UPSETTING' FOR OTHERS

When Walsh came across the letter in her mailbox, she said she was confused and a little shocked. If she had received the cheque one or two years after Bonnie died, she says it "would have floored" her.

"If somebody’s child has recently died and they've gotten a benefit cheque, it can be very upsetting," Walsh said, adding that this isn't the first time Bonnie has received mail after her death.

She explained that the family received a satisfaction survey from Bonnie's hospital regarding an appointment she had missed. Walsh said she missed the appointment because she had died.

While Walsh never planned on cashing the cheque since it is not addressed to her, she says it would have been nice to donate it to New Zealand's Champion Centre, which provides multi-disciplinary early intervention services to children with significant disabilities, in honour of Bonnie.

"But I figured I probably shouldn’t. It would be a bit of fraud… to cash my daughter’s cheque that hasn’t been alive for 12 years," she said.

The ESDC told CTVNews.ca that the "payment will need to be returned" and provided a mailing address as well as a website link on what to do when a loved one dies to pass along to Walsh.

She said the information in the link is "informative," but a little late.

"Should another child of ours die, we now know what to do. I don't know if the link was available twelve years ago," Walsh said in response.

She says no one from the ESDC or CRA has contacted her directly about the cheque.

Walsh said she will return the cheque if she can still find it. She said the CRA can put a freeze on it until then.

"There is a photo of it. Feel free to put a stop payment on Bonnie's cheque. She won't be cashing it any time soon," Walsh said.

Edited by CTVNews.ca's Ryan Flanagan