In several prior posts, Facebook or other social media evidence has been a factor in a court’s decision on various Family law matters, most often relating to child custody and access.
For something on this same theme yet still a little out -of-the-ordinary, I noted a recent decision from pertaining to Income Assistance Benefits under the Ontario Works (OW) program. An applicant, who said she was a sole-support single mother, was ordered to repay about $30,000 in benefit over payments because her sister’s and her own social media photos proved that she had a “spouse in the house” that rendered her ineligible to receive benefits during a three-year period.
The decision had been made by an OW Administrator, based on an investigation and the evidence of a Caseworker, the applicant’s landlord, and photos of the applicant on social media. The Administrator’s conclusion was that “Mr. H.,” who was the applicant’s common law spouse and the father of her child, had indeed been living with her regularly over the three-year period in question. She was also found to have failed to provide certain information required of her under the governing legislation.
The applicant appealed to the Social Benefits Tribunal to have the Administrator’s decision overturned. She claimed that she did not know of Mr. H’s whereabouts or employment status, had no means of contacting him, and had absolutely no communication with him apart from meeting him in a public parking lot once a month to receive $50 in child support payments.
After reviewing evidence of the applicant’s social media presence in particular, the Tribunal quickly concluded otherwise. It said:
While the Tribunal acknowledges that while the majority of the photos were sourced from the [applicant’s] sister’s Facebook page, a number of them were sourced from the [applicant’s] and Mr. H’s own social media accounts. However, what the Tribunal considered most significant in the context of social media evidence is that the [applicant’s] social media account indicated that she was engaged to Mr. H.
The Tribunal also noted that the applicant’s “engaged” status was changed to “single” a few days after she became aware that she was being investigated by OW.
Based on this and other evidence, the Tribunal disbelieved the evidence of both the applicant and Mr. H that they were not living together and rarely saw each other aside from exchanging child support payments. It affirmed the previous decision of the Administrator, declared the applicant ineligible for benefits, and ordered her to repay the previously-received $30,000 to the Ontario Works program.
For the full text of the decision, see: