What is the Guaranteed Income Supplement, GIS, and Will I Get It?

Canada has two income support programs for older persons which have similar sounding names: the OAS and the GIS. The Old Age Supplement, OAS, is a payment made to older Canadians based on how long they have lived in this country. But what is the GIS and who gets it?

Guaranteed Income Supplement, GIS, is a Minimum Income Guarantee

First just let me say I hope you don’t ever get the GIS. I’m not being mean. It’s just that only people with a very low income get it.

The strange name for this payment is an attempt to summarize why it exists. The GIS was and is intended to “top up” an elderly person’s income to a minimum level. It is intended to “guarantee” elderly people have enough money to survive on. (Not live on, mind you, just survive.)

The amount of GIS a person can receive is based on their income from all sources.

In 2013, the GIS is intended to ensure a single elderly person has an income of  $16,679.99 plus the OAS.

Why was the GIS Introduced?

One major reason that GIS was needed is that many pensions, especially private employment pensions, are not indexed for inflation. When inflation was in the 8-12% range for several years, that meant a person’s pension dropped in real value by 20-60%! A pension that seemed quite reasonable at retirement could no longer pay even the basic bills.

According to the History of Pensions, in 1967, in an attempt to reduce elderly poverty the GIS was introduced as a temporary measure. It soon became permanent.

The Maximum Income You Can Have and Still Get GIS Payments Varies for Singles and Couples

The income test changes each year based on inflation and other factors. Check the Service Canada website for the most recent limits.

The following limits were in effect in October 2014:

For single persons including widows and widowers:
“If your yearly income exceeds $17 088, you do not qualify for the Guaranteed Income Supplement.”

For married and common law partners, both receiving the OAS:
“If your combined yearly income exceeds $22 560, you do not qualify for the Guaranteed Income Supplement.”

For married and common law partners, where the other partner is not receiving the OAS:
“If your combined yearly income exceeds $40 944 you do not qualify for the Guaranteed Income Supplement.”

Am I Eligible to Get the GIS?

To be eligible to receive the GIS, you need to

  • be eligible and receiving the OAS
    (that means you have to have been a resident of Canada for a certain number of years after you turned 18; be 65-67 or older; etc.)
  • have a low income below the threshold. If married or living common law, there is a different threshold for the combined income of the spouses or partners.
  • apply each year by sending in a form or by completing and filing their federal annual income tax return by April 30

The eligibility rules for sponsored immigrants are complicated. If you are in this category, please contact Service Canada for a detailed explanation.

What “Income” Does the CRA Count When Deciding Who is Eligible to Get the GIS?

The “income” the CRA uses to decide if you are eligible to receive the GIS is a bit different than the “income” you report on your tax return.

According to the Service Canada website for GIS calculations, income includes
all the sources of income reported on your tax return

  • earnings-related retirement pension income
  • foreign pensions
  • interest income
  • dividend income
  • rent income
  • wages (you are allowed to earn $3500 a year though and to contribute to CPP and EI without penalty)
  • worker’s compensation payments, etc.

If in doubt, you can contact Service Canada to inquire about the details.

Is the GIS Taxed?

Unlike the OAS, the GIS is not taxed!

Can I Get the GIS If I Leave Canada?

No. You can get payments for 6 months after you leave Canada, but after that payments cease.

Related Reading

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Have you or a friend or relative discovered any quirks on the GIS system? Please share your experiences with a comment.

11 thoughts on “What is the Guaranteed Income Supplement, GIS, and Will I Get It?

  1. I have already factored the GIS in to my retirement budget. I am low income now and I will be low income in retirement.

    If it wasn’t for the different government pensions I would never be able to retire. I just hope the different pensions are still there when I retire.

  2. Question: GIS is ceases if we are out of country for 6 consecutive months. Service Canada webpage http://www.servicecanada.gc.ca/eng/services/pensions/oas/gis/index.shtml says GIS will stop if: “you leave Canada for more than six consecutive months;” The keyword here is “consecutive” Can I live 5 months in say, Mexico (I can live much better there that here on the same income) and 1 month in Canada, then back to Mexico for 5 months return to Canada for 1 month. The question is; does that allow me to continue to receive GIS since I am not out of country for 6 consecutive months at any time? Haven’t done that yet but the idea seems sound.

    • I’m sorry but I don’t work for Service Canada so this question is too specific for me to answer. You could telephone them though, and discuss it. I know many people do spend some of the year living in other countries. There may be complex rules about how many months a year you must live in Canada, or there may not. Please be aware that you will lose your health insurance if you live out of Canada that long, so you may need to buy a private insurance policy to use while in Canada from a company such as Blue Cross etc. It will likely also void your provincial driver’s license, if you have one, and quite possibly your car insurance.

  3. “The amount of GIS a person can receive is based on their income from all sources. In 2013, the GIS is intended to ensure a single elderly person has an income of $16,679.99 plus the OAS.”

    This statement contains misinformation. The maximum GIS for a single person is a little over $9000. In other words, a person with no other retirement income is guaranteed just over $9000 a year plus the OAS.

  4. If a SENIOR person want to live outside Canada they will still get the GIS ? if NOT it would be NOT ENOUGH ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD for the low income senior the small pension without GIS is NOT ENOUGH ANYWHERE
    thank you for your answer.

    • No, G.I.S. is only for residents of Canada. It’s basically a welfare program for seniors, not a pension. It’s possible the country the senior moves to might have its own welfare programs.
      If you need any further information, you can contact Service Canada. I’m just a taxpayer; I don’t work for them.

  5. My mom was widowed in sept 2016… How do I apply for GIS for her.. As a widow or couple since my dad passed away in sept 2016… Her income was only 12,000 in 2016 so do I combine her income w my dads as he was alive until sept.

    • I’m very sorry to hear about your father. I’d suggest you call Service Canada and ask what they suggest. I think they will tell you to apply for her as a single, however I do not work for the government so I’m not sure. They may also be able to suggest other things she should apply for and other tips that may improve the timing of her application. I’m sorry you have to deal with this difficult paperwork at the same time as grieving.

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