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Outstanding warrants and welfare

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If there is a warrant for your arrest, you may not be able to get welfare benefits. Learn when this rule applies, and options to deal with an outstanding warrant.

What you should know

Under the law in BC, if there is a warrant for your arrest anywhere in Canada, you may not be able to get welfare in BC. It depends on the type of offence involved.

You aren’t eligible for welfare if there is an arrest warrant issued:

  1. under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, or
  2. under any other Canadian law in relation to an indictable offence.

Indictable offences are the more serious ones, usually under the Criminal Code or the law on illegal drugs. They include aggravated assault, theft over $5,000, drug trafficking, and murder.

If an arrest warrant for you is outstanding and falls in one of these categories, you can be cut off from (and ineligible for) welfare benefits until you take steps to deal with the warrant. The welfare benefits affected include income assistance, disability assistance, hardship assistance, and supplements.

Some people can still get welfare even if they have an outstanding warrant falling in one of the named categories. The warrant provision in the welfare law doesn’t apply to:

  • pregnant women,
  • people in the end stage of a terminal illness, or
  • someone under age 18.

The family of a person with an outstanding warrant is still eligible for welfare.

When you apply for welfare, you have to say if there is an outstanding warrant for your arrest issued under:

  • Canada’s immigration law, or
  • another Canadian law in relation to an indictable offence.

If you don’t tell the truth, you may have to repay any welfare benefits you receive, and you could face criminal charges. You also have to agree that the government can check the information you report.

But you may not know if you have an outstanding warrant. For example, perhaps there was a warrant for your arrest. But sometimes charges are stayed, with the prosecutor deciding not to proceed with the charges. When that happens, warrants are cancelled. A warrant can be cancelled without you knowing about it. As a result, you can’t assume you still have an active warrant.

Or you may know there’s a warrant, but not know if it’s in relation to an indictable offence. (Less serious offences are called summary conviction offences. Some offences are hybrid offences, meaning the prosecutor can choose to proceed either summarily or by indictment.)

So the most accurate answer may be that you don’t know if there’s an outstanding arrest warrant falling in one of the named categories. The government can then check for any outstanding warrants for your arrest and what type of offence they are for.

How you deal with an outstanding warrant depends on the facts of the case and the offence you are charged with. You have various options.

You can call the prosecutor in the location where the warrant was issued to see if they might drop the underlying criminal charges (which would cancel the warrant).

Or you can go back to that place to deal with the warrant.

Or if you have a relevant warrant in another province, you can waive in your charges to BC so you can attend court here to clear the warrant and deal with the charges. (You can only waive charges into BC if you intend to plead guilty to them.)

You should get legal advice before you decide what to do. See below for options for legal help.

You can challenge the government’s decision

If the government says you can’t get welfare or it cuts you off from welfare, you have the right to challenge their decision. See our information on reconsiderations and appeals of income assistance.

Short-term financial help

You may be able to get two kinds of financial supplements if you show undue hardship.

You can apply for a repayable monthly supplement, if you can show that without financial help you will experience undue hardship. This assistance can be provided for three months, with the possibility of three additional months in exceptional circumstances.

You may also be able to get a repayable transportation supplement so you can go back to the place where the warrant is outstanding and deal with it.

Common questions

Yes. The application for welfare asks you to provide the welfare Ministry with written consent to check if you have any relevant warrants. If you do not consent, you will not be eligible for welfare.

Who can help

You can apply to the Legal Aid BC to see if you qualify under legal aid for a criminal lawyer to take your case or give you some advice about a warrant.

For help in challenging a decision about your eligibility for welfare, you could seek out an advocate. Advocates are community workers trained to help people, including with the paperwork involved. PovNet has a Find an Advocate tool. Clicklaw’s HelpMap lists dozens of advocates in BC.

The Community Legal Assistance Society (CLAS) may be able to help you if you have been denied welfare due to a warrant and you have lost your welfare appeal.

The Community Legal Assistance Society publishes a factsheet on "Welfare and Outstanding Warrants".

The Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction is responsible for welfare in BC.

  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed for legal accuracy in August 2017
  • Time to read: 4 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Legal Content Team, People's Law School

Legal Content Team, People's Law School

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This information from People’s Law School explains in a general way the law that applies in British Columbia, Canada. The information is not intended as legal advice. See our disclaimer.


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