How to get an iPad when you can’t afford it

How  many of you tried to buy an iPad (or other expensive device) using the 20% equipment budget from your BC Autism Funding? You had to:

  • Send in a Justification Form signed by your Consultant
  • Wait for approval
  • Buy the device
  • Submit a Reimbursement for Autism Expenses form
  • Wait for the funds from the BC government

That’s fine for those who can afford to pay upfront and wait for reimbursement, but it leaves the others in a Catch 22 situation.  The result is that the families who most need the device simply can’t purchase it.

Now there is a solution using London Drugs throughout B.C. You will need to follow these steps:

  • Get your Consultant to fill out a Justification for Equipment (JFE) form specifying the model number from London Drugs.
  • Send the form to the Autism Funding Unit (AFU).
  • Wait for the AFU to send a confirmation letter.
  • Fill out the RTP – Service Providers/Suppliers form.
  • Take the RTP and authorization letter to London Drugs and try to find a manager who knows about this program. You may have to try different locations or call London Drugs headquarters for help.
  • The manager will fill out Part B of the form and send it to the AFU.
  • The family will get a message that their computer/iPad is ready for pick up.

I have been told that the entire process will take about three months. If you have difficulty finding a London Drugs store that understands the process, I understand the Cloverdale and South Surrey stores are very accommodating.

Note that the AFU will only allow you to get a new device once every three years.  You can also expect push back if the device you select is too expensive (at least according to the AFU). How much is too expensive?  That is a good question and one that I don’t have an answer to.

Also, please do not use school as a reason for buying the device as the AFU will not approve this.  Your Consultant should be aware of the appropriate words to use.

OK, so that is all a bit exhausting and time consuming, but at least there is now an option for those that need it.

 

Finally! Online Access to the AFU

Families have been complaining for years that they did not have timely access to their child’s autism funding.  Some unscrupulous therapists have taken advantage of this fact to extract more funding than the families intended.

The Autism Funding Unit (AFU) has now joined the 21st century. Finally, families can:

  • View and manage their child’s funding
  • View and edit approved authorizations and
  • Submit forms online

The procedure to sign up is only slightly painful.

  • First, you need to sign up for a Basic BCeID 
  • Ensure the parent signing up has signing authority for the autism funding
  • Next, sign up for My Family Services
  • After the AFU gives their approval, you will be able to log into My Family Services.

On the My Family Services dashboard, you will be able to access and manage your child’s autism funding.

Service Provider Portal

The Service Provider Portal is a new online invoicing system (for the Autism Funding Unit) designed to streamline the payments to service providers.  As a parent there are some things that you need to know.

The Good

Service providers have the right to be paid on time and this goes a long way to making that happen.  Instead of submitting a paper invoice, they complete the online form and are paid almost immediately. It also allows the service provider to see when a Request to Pay (RTP) or a Request to Amend (RTA) has been processed, and the system keeps a running total of how much funding is left.

The Bad

A paper invoice for the family is not required. The service portal will not accept an excel invoice which most Behaviour Consultants (BC) have used for their invoicing in the past.  It may be tempting for a minority of service providers to not provide a separate invoice for their clients, leaving them out of the loop.

The Ugly

In my experience most service providers are completely honest and ethical however as with any group of people there are always a few disreputable characters.  This new system allows fraud to occur at a much faster pace with the families unaware of what is happening until it is too late.  Sadly, MCFD has not been monitoring the RASP list and sanctioning individuals as needed.

What Can You Do?

As a parent, you must insist on monthly updates for Autism Funding Unit (AFU) billing.  This may be in the form of an invoice or a detailed list of hours and hourly rates. It is imperative that you monitor this and contact the AFU the minute you realize that fraudulent billing is taking place. You also need to be aware that the service provider may  cancel or amend their invoice after the fact.

The moment you suspect fraudulent billing is taking place, you must contact the AFU and amend the RTP form to stop further charges. The feedback that I have been getting is that once the money is gone, you are not getting it back.

Autism and Divorce – The Ugly Truth

It is commonly said that 75% of marriages that have a child with autism will end in divorce. This may or may not be true but according to Mrs. Drysdale, the other 25% are simply waiting for the right moment.

I’m not pretending to be an expert in matters of marital separation as I have not been fortunate enough to go through such an ordeal. I found researching this post to be extraordinarily difficult as the rules are vague and can easily vary based on separation agreements and court rulings. The bottom line is that if you can work together to come up with a plan you will be much better off.

An autism diagnosis and a divorce are two of the most devastating financial events that can occur to a family. With some advance planning and cooperation from the two parents, the financial implications can be minimized.

There is an excellent article in the Financial Post about how to save money in a divorce. It is a short read, but very worthwhile.

The new Family Law Act came into effect last year and many of the terms you may be familiar with have changed. The Legal Services Society has a guide to the new act which you can find here.

This brief introduction to the financial arrangements of divorce and separation is no substitute for professional advice which I strongly recommend that you seek.

The broad tax implications

For divorces (and separations longer than 90 days) after April 1997 any child support payments are not deductible by the payer and don’t have to be claimed as income by the recipient. Spousal support payments on the other hand can be claimed as a deduction by the payer and must be claimed as income by the recipient.

To identify if a payment is child or spousal support, you must look to the court order or written agreement. Any payments which are not specifically designated for the sole support of the former spouse are to be considered child support.

In order to claim a spousal support deduction, the payer must first pay all of the child support payments. Any arrears in child support payments are added to the next year’s support payments and again these must be paid before any spousal support is claimed.

Taxation of payments to third parties

Examples of payments to third parties include property tax and insurance. It is important to structure these payments properly so as to minimize taxation. In order to deduct such payments, three conditions must be met:

  • There is an agreement or order specifying that these payments are to be made for the benefit of the recipient spouse.
  • The payer and recipient are living apart.
  • The written agreement or court order specifies that the payer may deduct these payments and the recipient will claim them as income.

When to notify CRA of the marital status change?

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) must be notified in the month following the change of marital status. If you are separated, CRA must be notified after 90 continuous days of separation. You can use the form RC65 to notify CRA.

Canada Child Tax Benefit (CCTB)

The CCTB will be recalculated based on the new family income and will be adjusted in the month following the marital breakup. The person who resides with the child and is responsible for his/her upbringing is the one who will receive the CCTB.

It’s important to remember that the CCTB is based on family income. After the breakup of a marriage it may be advantageous for the lower income person to receive the CCTB so as to maximize the monthly cheque. A well-crafted separation agreement or order or judgment should take this into account and designate the lower income parent to be the one to claim for the CCTB.

In a shared custody arrangement if the parents:

  • live in separate locations;
  • live with the child on an equal or near-equal basis; and
  • are primarily responsible for the child’s care and upbringing when living with the child.

then the CCTB will be apportioned on a 50/50 basis.

Remember that you must continue to file an income tax return every year in order to receive the CCTB even if you have no income.

Eligible Dependent Claim

You can claim the Amount for an Eligible Dependent (AED – also known as the “single parent exemption”) if you didn’t have a spouse or common-law partner living with you and you supported a dependent and you lived in the same home as the dependent. If a parent pays child support they become ineligible for the AED. Once again a properly written agreement will specify who may claim for this amount.

Only one person can claim for an eligible dependent. If you have shared custody and both make support payments for the dependent, only one person may claim for an eligible dependent. If you can’t agree who is to make this claim, then no one can claim it.

Child Care Expenses

Both separated parents can now claim child care expenses (assuming there is no other supporting person) up to the limit for that child ($10,000 if the child qualifies for the Disability Tax Credit). However there are some caveats:

  • The expenses must be for the period that the parent has custody of the child
  • That parent must pay the expenses
  • It still must be for the purposes of:
    • Earning employment income
    • Going to school
    • Running a business
  • If both parents use the same child care provider, they must pay separately and obtain receipts to reflect the period that they had custody.

If there is a separation and subsequent reconciliation, Form T778 Child Care Expenses Deduction will guide you through the amount you can claim.

Medical Expenses

Either party may continue to claim for medical expenses provided they made the payments for a supported person. The big difference is that while married or common-law couples can pool their medical expenses to lower the tax payable, divorced or separated parents must make individual claims.

Where possible, the family’s medical expenses should be claimed by the parent with the lower income in order to maximize the medical expense tax credit.

Tax Credits and Deductions

It should be specified in the separation agreement which parent will be claiming the available credits and deductions.

BC Autism Funding

There should be no great change as this amount is not taxable. As before, only one parent may be in charge of the funds from the AFU and this is unlikely to change after a separation or divorce.

Fitness and Arts Tax Credit

Each parent can claim the fitness amount and arts amount. However, the claims cannot be for the same expenditures and the combined claim per child for each program cannot exceed the $500 limitation.

Who gets the extra $500 for a disabled child? Either parent can claim this amount as long as another person has not already claimed the same fees.

Legal Fees

You can’t deduct legal fees used to obtain a divorce, establish or contest child custody, or to divide property.

Legal fees that are deductible include:

  • To obtain child or spousal support
  • Legal fees used to collect salary or wages
  • Fees to try to make child support payments non-taxable

Personal Residence Exemption

Prior to a marital separation, only one residence per family could be used for the “Principal Residence Exemption”. This is used to exempt the property from any capital gains tax during the years that it is designated as a principal residence. Following the separation, each parent is now entitled to their own “Principal Residence Exemption” but only after:

  • One year of living apart and
  • They are separated pursuant to a judicial order or written separation agreement

A significant delay to a separation could involve a nasty tax surprise for a separated couple who each own a primary residence.

Separation Agreement

This has been a far from comprehensive guide to divorce involving a child with autism. The key point to everything written above is that you must have a clear, well written separation agreement. It should designate which parent is entitled to the child tax credits and deductions available under the Income Tax Act. This can amount to a substantial amount of money and should certainly be considered when calculating child and parental support payments.

Emotions typically run very high during this period, but it is critical to remember that a well-crafted agreement will go a long way to relieving heartache and legal bills down the road. Cooperation, not confrontation will ultimately lead to a better financial outcome for all parties.

I have always encouraged parents of children with autism to be masters of their own financial domain. Dealing with the Autism Funds Unit, applying for tax credits and deductions and managing their child’s therapy is certainly within the grasp of most people. Divorce is a different beast altogether and good professional advice is essential. At the very least, you should have a reputable lawyer draft the separation agreement. In very complicated cases you may need to enlist the services of an accountant.

I would strongly encourage any of you to share your personal experiences and tips in the comment section below.

Special Presentation – What Can My AFU Funds Do?

The ABA Support Network is hosting a presentation that is very relevant to those us managing an ABA program using only the $22,000 or $6,000 available from the AFU. 

It’s a challenging proposition and we are lucky to have some very respected Behaviour Consultants donate their time and energy to help us understand how to manage our programs under very limited budgets.

The following is from the ABA Support Network website:

Special Presentation – based on feedback from many parents, we are going to talk about the challenges of running quality treatment programs with limited funding from the government.  What do families do that don’t have money over and above the $22,000 or $6,000 per year?
Topic:                 What Can My AFU Funds Do?
When:                 Tuesday Feb, 11  7-9pm
Where:                Surrey Sport and Leisure Center, Arena Side Upstairs Meeting Room
(16555 Fraser Hwy, Surrey, BC V4N 0E9)

At this presentation, you will hear from a panel of BCBAs, and their experience with what you can expect from both over-6 and under-6 funding from the Ministry.  Topics to be discussed include:
1.  Quality vs. Quantity — sample ABA programs of different funding models.
2.  Home vs. school — how to ensure that your child is receiving the best support and supervision with the funds you have available to you.
3.  Collaboration — other resources which can be used to help pay for collaboration with other professionals, such as SLP and OT.
4.  Goal setting — what to consider when setting goals with your consultant.
5.  The ethical perspective of your BCBA — ethical considerations for your BCBA providing consultation on a limited budget.
6.  Tips and troubleshooting  — ideas to help use the funding creatively and maintaining a great team.
We will also end with a Q & A, and invite parents to share their feedback.
please rsvp to tamara_desilva@Hotmail.com

Material Funding Secrets Revealed – Part 3

We know about material funding and why we want to use it.  Now we need to smooth the process.

Remember the basic steps:

If the item in question is on the ineligible list or you think you are likely to be turned down, make an initial request and wait for the rejection from the AFU clerk.  It’s only when you appeal the decision that it will go up the food chain to someone with more authority. The sooner you initially apply, the sooner you will be rejected and the sooner you can start the appeal process. Again this is a completely bizarre procedure, but here are a few things you can do on the appeal to smooth the way:

  • Have a professional (Behaviour Consultant and/or Doctor) write a letter justifying why your child needs this piece of equipment or supplies
  • Make sure your reasoning is sound and related to the autism program

To file an appeal simply write (or email) the AFU citing the rejection and outlining your reasons why it should be allowed. Cite any relevant research and include details you feel are appropriate.

The AFU stipulates that the reimbursement forms must be received within 6 months of the date of purchase to be considered.  It’s OK for them to drag their feet and delay payment, but heaven forbid you should save your paperwork and send it all in together for the entire funding year.

It’s very easy to completely lose track of your funding with all the forms, letters and receipts coming and going.  I highly recommend that you have a tracking system in place to see how much of your funding you have left.  Please don’t leave anything on the table.  Your tracking system could be a spreadsheet or simply a piece of paper. Whatever it is, make sure you use it every time.

If you have been turned down for an item and your friend had it approved, you might consider asking them (nicely!) if you can quote their experience to the AFU.

A few other points to consider:

  • The purchase date must be within the funding year (i.e. starting the month following your child’s birthday)
  • Send in original receipts and make copies for your records
  • Save at least a few months of receipts and send them in together to lessen the paperwork (keeping in mind that the reimbursement forms must be received within 6 months of the date of purchase)

That’s the end of the 3 part series on material funding.  We would all like to hear your experiences by posting in the comments section.  Anything that you can pass on would be greatly appreciated by other parents.

Material Funding Secrets Revealed – Part 2

The previous post outlined the absurd policies of the Autism Funds Unit (AFU) when it comes to material funding.  There are only two logical explanations for such bizarre rules:

  • The government bureaucracy is trying to justify its existence and maintain a large workforce or
  • They are trying to ensure that you don’t spend your funds which are then returned to the government and undoubtedly used for bonuses for the department heads who underspend their budgets.

OK, so why bother using material funding at all?  Most people will easily fill their yearly funding allowance with behaviour intervention for their child.

One reason is if you are on a shoestring budget and simply have no money left for autism therapy, then you must somehow manage the yearly autism funds to cover intervention, training and materials.

The majority of us spend well in excess of the available autism funds.  In this case you are better off to claim the maximum allowable ($1,200 or $4,400) for material funding.  The reason is that funds spent out of your pocket for intervention can be used as a medical expense on your annual income tax.  This could result in a refund as much as 20% of the total depending on your income level.  Money spent on material goods in support of an autism therapy program are ineligible as a medical expense (Yes, this has been tested in the Tax Court of Canada).

So what can you use your funds for?  It’s a bit of a challenge to spend your entitlement, but here are some ideas:

  • Flash cards
  • Reinforcement toys
  • General supplies such as pens, pencils, paper, binders, clips, staples
  • Printers
  • Printer supplies
  • One computer or iPad or Touch Screen device every three years
  • CDs or DVDs relating to the therapy program
  • Travel to and from autism intervention (round trip greater than 80 kms) or training
  • Autism conferences
  • Computer programs (remember to justify their use) such as Microsoft Office or autism specific programs
  • iPad apps (again justify their use)
  • Arts and crafts
  • Books
  • Membership for the Canucks Autism Network

If you know of any other items that can be claimed, please let us know in the comments section.

There is no reason why your purchases must be made in Canada.  With all the high priced help in the Autism Funds Unit, I’m sure they can calculate exchange rates.

Nothing in the AFU guidance indicates that the purchase must be a new product.  As long as you have a proper receipt, I see no reason that the purchase can’t be “pre-owned”.

Next post:

  • Tips for managing material funding