You are here


Financial Hardship Reasons for Unlocking Locked In RRSP - Withdrawal of Pension Funds | Canada

Locked-In RRSP Retirement Funds Can Be Unlocked and Withdrawn for Financial Hardship Reasons in Some Provinces

How to unlock locked-in RRSP funds for financial hardship reasons in Canada.If you’re thinking of withdrawing money from your locked-in RRSP or pension funds to help you during a financial hardship, it would be best to speak with a Credit Counsellor first. Other options may be available to you so that you won’t need to use these funds. If, however, you’d like to look into the reasons that allow you unlock and withdraw money from your Locked-in Retirement Account (LIRA), Life Income Fund (LIF), or Locked-in Retirement Income Fund (LRIF), we’ve got all the financial hardship reasons listed below.

Before we get to that, though, we should mention one important detail. To unlock pension funds, they must first be transferred out of an employer’s Registered Pension Plan (RPP) and into a LIRA or LIF in your name, and you typically must also be no longer employed by the company who created the pension.

Below are reasons that permit you to unlock locked-in pension funds. Every locked in pension is locked and preserved for your retirement under the legislation of either a specific province or under federal legislation. You’ll have to check your pension documentation to see which provincial legislation it is locked in under (the financial institution that holds the funds will also have this documentation if you can’t find yours). Beside each reason below are the provinces (or federal legislation) that permit you to withdraw funds for that reason.

Reasons to Unlock Locked-In Pension

Provinces That Allows for the Reason

Low Income - You expect your income to drop to a very low level

Ontario, BC, Alberta, SaskatchewanNova Scotia, NewfoundlandFederal

Potential Foreclosure

Ontario, BC, Alberta, Nova Scotia

Eviction for Being Behind on Rent or Mortgage Payments

Ontario, BC, Alberta, SaskatchewanNova Scotia, Newfoundland

First Month’s Rent and Security Deposit

Ontario, BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland

High Medical or Disability Related Costs - You need money for medical expenses that are not covered by a medical plan or any other source, or you need to pay for renovations to your home that are required due to illness or disability.

Ontario, BC, Alberta, SaskatchewanNova Scotia, NewfoundlandFederal

No Longer a Canadian Resident

Ontario, Quebec, BC, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, New BrunswickNova Scotia, NewfoundlandFederal

Shortened Life Expectancy

Ontario, Quebec, BC, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, NewfoundlandFederal

50% Unlocking - Can do this one time if you are 55 years old or older

Alberta, Manitoba, Federal

Small Balance Unlocking - If the balance of your locked-in funds are below a certain amount, you can unlock and withdraw the money

Ontario (you must be at least 55 and the balance less than $25,960), BC (balance must not exceed $12,980), Alberta (balance must not exceed $12,980 if you're under 65), Manitoba (balance cannot exceed $25,960 after a future value calculation is done), Saskatchewan (balance must not exceed $12,980), New Brunswick (withdrawal formula is based on your age), NewfoundlandFederal (balance must be less than $12,980)

Age 65 & Balance is Small

Quebec (balance can’t exceed $25,960), BC (balance can’t exceed $25,960), Alberta (balance can’t exceed $25,960), Nova Scotia (amounts under $32,450)

Note: All numbers listed in the table above are for 2022 (they go up a little every year)

Provincial Financial Hardship Unlocking (FHU) programs are intended to provide a one-time source of financial relief to locked-in account owners who are experiencing financial hardship.

The financial institution holding the locked-in retirement funds must review your situation to ensure it meets the requirements of the provincial legislation that govern their locked-in funds. The government is not involved in the decision to unlock your funds. All they have done is create the legislation for your province, and then it’s up to your financial institution to follow the legislation.

You don’t have to provide information about your other assets to qualify. All you need to fill out are the specific documents that apply to the reason why you are applying to withdraw your locked-in funds. There is often no charge for applying. However, provincial legislation does not prevent your financial institution from charging you a fee.

How to Find the Best Help & Assistance

For all situations involving financial hardship – especially withdrawing locked-in funds – the ideal person to talk to first is a non-profit Credit Counsellor. They often find that many people make a difficult situation worse for themselves by taking actions that seem right at the time, but in the end only end up leaving them in a worse financial position. Experienced, well trained Credit Counsellors are true financial hardship experts. They can guide you through all your options and help you figure out what steps would be in your best interest and which would not. The nice thing is that an appointment with a non-profit Credit Counsellor is usually free, and they’re able to provide you with an objective perspective and very helpful information. To find a good non-profit credit counselling organization near you, click here.


Links to Provincial Rules for Unlocking Funds Due to Financial Hardship

Ontario Rules for Financial Hardship Unlocking

Ontario Rules for Unlocking Funds when there is No Hardship

BC Rules for Unlocking a Pension

Alberta Rules for Unlocking Funds Due to Financial Hardship

Manitoba Rules for Unlocking a Pension

Saskatchewan Rules for Unlocking a Pension

Quebec Rules for Unlocking a Pension

Nova Scotia Rules for Unlocking Funds Due to Financial Hardship

Nova Scotia - More Information About Unlocking Funds

New Brunswick Information About Unlocking Funds

Newfoundland - Eligibility for Unlocking Locked-In Retirement Savings for Financial Hardship

Prince Edward Island - Does not have its own laws and regulations governing pension plans

Federal Unlocking Options & Information for Financial Hardship


<< Back to the Blog main page



I am presently recovering from a life threatening situation, requiring surgical intervetion and lengthy recovery process. I'm required to see my physican and nursing staff for wound care regularly still. Currently, I am unable to work and have no other sources of income.

It absolutely infuriates me that as a New Brunswicker we are behind every single province in Canada. When I say we are behind, I mean EVERYTHING! Employment, training, education, income, taxes (the only thing that is higher), and skilled hourly wages/salary. As of right now February 22/2020 we are the poorest province in this country, and as such this list of problems I just stated will only get worse. Seriously thinking about a move, probably to Nova Scotia...... At least they will let me draw some of my pension without having to practically die first.

I am on medical disability and my wife got some funding and receiving a small amount of money each week paid through the EI for going to college, she is 55 and has a small lira account which we could use because of financial hardship. Would she still be eligible for the EI weekly benefit if she unlocked the lira due to financial hardship.

That's a really good question and one you are wise to investigate before technically increasing your income by redeeming the LIRA. If you have a contact person at EI, this would be a good question to ask them. You can also go to the Employment Insurance website, see if you can find information on this or contact them and see what help they can provide.

What if the hardship hasn't passed & I need to go in the fund a second time? Better yet, what if amount left is low & I would prefer to just withdraw the entire amount?

Can I unlock my pension for second time in one year I am really having financial problems. Am behind on two months rent, I also co-signed for my daughter to rent a place. She have financial hardship and know they are asking me to pay it.

If your pension is a locked-in RRSP and it's within the small balance amount that permits you to withdraw funds, you should be able to make as many withdrawals as you want until the money is gone. Our best suggestion though, would be to call 1-888-527-8999 and make an appointment to speak with a non-profit Credit Counsellor. It's possible that they may be able to help you find other options other than using your pension money.

Hi Danny, There is no limit to the number of times you can withdraw funds from a LIRA as long as you meet the requirements to withdraw funds.

Hi, you'll need to find out which financial institution is holding your LIRA. Then you'll need to contact them and see which legislation governs your locked in funds (either provincial or federal). Once you know which provincial legislation (or federal) your funds are locked in under, you can see if your situation would qualify for an early redemption. You may need to look into this yourself rather than relying on the financial institution to advise you since this isn't the sort of thing that most financial professionals deal with on a regular basis.

I have a pension in saskachewan and have been living in Alberta for 15 years now. I am currently in financial hardship how do I go about doing this because saskachewan docent have this clause. I find it frustrating trying to make ends meet at the moment and I have a fare size pension. Ease help

Hi Scott, To help you figure something out, we would offer two suggestions: 1) You could contact the company that holds your pension and see if there is any possible way they can release some of the money (if there is a way, someone with a lot of experience who works there might know), and 2) try sitting down with a local non-profit Credit Counsellor. Go over you situation with them, and see if they are able to come up with any solutions that might work for you. You can find one here: . There is also a link near the top of this article.

My mom is currently sick and has been in and out of the hospital in the Philippines. We have incurred medical bills... and would want to withdraw some $ on my LIRA. I checked the forms but it is asking for a licensed medical practitioner to sign the forms... but how can I ask a doctor here to certify for my mom’s condition? I am currently securing a phycician’s certificate for my family Care Leave application for EI as she is already critical condition—to be signed by mom’s doctor in the Philippines. Would that suffice as supporting documents together with the receipts of bills?

You'll need to contact the financial institution that holds your LIRA and ask them these questions. If you can satisfy them that you have met the appropriate requirements, then they can release your funds to you.

Ontario Teacher's Pension Fund Question. I received a lump sum settlement from my LTD insurance carrier in 2012. My earliest retirement date is May 2019 as outlined in settlement. I find myself in financial crisis with experiencing less interest on lump sum than anticipated along with increased medical bills - this lump sum will not sustain me until May 2019. Are there any loop holes regarding my teacher's pension where I can access a one time sum under these circumstances to help me reach my retirement date without becoming homeless??? Thank you.

Hi Lorraine, We're sorry to hear about your situation. In your case, we would encourage you to contact a knowledgeable person within the Ontario Teacher's Pension Fund and ask them if there is a way you can get early access to your funds because of your hardship. We're not familiar with your pension's rules, but hopefully they'd have some sort of hardship provision you could possible tap into. If you can find a knowledgeable, compassionate person to speak with, hopefully they can either help you out or direct you to something else that could help tide you over until May 2019. If you have a financial planner or accountant, it's possible that they may have more information on this too, but start with someone at the pension plan, they're likely to know the most.

I’ve already taken out $ for hardship. I needed to buy a car. I have orthostatic hypotension and have fallen on bus and while walking. I need the car for health reasons. Now what do I do to get some extra to last me till Dec. OAS doesn’t start till Nov 30th. I don’t know how long I can go on.

Hi Anne, We're sorry to hear about your situation. We would strongly suggest that you contact the Credit Counselling Society at 1-888-527-8999 and make an appointment to speak with one of their Credit Counsellors. They can help you take a look at your whole situation and hopefully help you put together a plan to deal with these challenges. They may have suggestions in regard to options you may not have considered or other places you may be able to find some help.

I am in Canada on a working permit. I am leaving Canada soon and I would like to move my funds when I move, mostly out of convenience but partially I am worried about losing access altogether after I leave. i cannot find any information on this clause and would like to know more to see if i am able to enact this clause.

Hi, the best thing to do would be to talk with the financial institution that holds your locked in funds. If your balance is within the small balance unlocking amount for the legislation that governs your locked in funds, you should be able to take the money out without any problem. If your balance is over the small balance unlocking amount, then you may have to leave the funds there until you qualify to withdraw the funds. If you leave the country, you should be able to provide your financial institution with your contact information and keep your account active. Tell them about your situation and ask them what they would suggest you do.

My wife and I are both with Manulife. We contribute through our work. She has a DPSP (deferred Profit sharing plan) while I have a RPP (Registered Pension Plan). Both of us have been told by them that unless we quit or retire we are not able to access that money since we still work for the company where we contribute. We are in a bind with our mortgage right now and I need to catch up on my arrears in the next couple of months before I can renew, so we are in a tight spot. How can I go about through some sort of loophole to get some of that money out?

Hi Phil, It’s difficult replying to a question like this without more information, but here are some suggestions to help you find some personalized help. 1) See what can be done about the mortgage first. Touching your retirement funds should be your very, very last option. If your mortgage is insured through CMHC or Genworth, they have programs designed to help people who are struggling with their mortgage. These programs can include many options. Contact one of these companies if your mortgage is insured through them and then follow their process. Alternatively, contact your bank and speak with someone there who has many years of experience. See if there is any way the bank can work with you to work something out. 2) Speak with a non-profit credit counsellor to see if they can offer any insights or help. Depending on your situation, they may be able to suggest some things you may not have considered or were aware of. They would also look to see if any kind of debt relief program could help you. 3) If all of these suggestions don’t help you find a workable solution, then try and speak with a very experienced, sympathetic person at your pension company to see if there isn’t some way you can work something out. If your pension is governed by the laws of Ontario, Alberta, or Nova Scotia, then potential foreclosure is a hardship reason that can potentially be used to unlock funds. Try focusing on the first two groups of suggestions above and only come back to number three if nothing else works.

If once you start a minimum annual withdrawal for hardship reasons, are you able to discontinue those withdrawals after the need is over?? Person’s age is 63.

When you make a withdrawal for hardship reasons, it is a lump sum withdrawal. There is no payment schedule. You can take as much or as little of the RRSP funds as you wish within the maximum amount you are allowed to withdraw for the reason you qualified for. Remember, though, the more you take out, the more tax you will have to pay, and the less money you will have left for your retirement years.

I live in BC. I have a dcpp at around $9,000 with sunlife. I’ve been waiting for my options but I’d like to take the lump sum. I’m wondering if it has to be 20% or less of the ympe for the year of just the actual balance or if it’s the commuted value that’s taken into consideration?

Hi Erica, Sorry we can't help much with this question. You'll need to find out from SunLife what the restrictions are on your plan. What often happens with a DCPP is that when someone leaves the employer that set it up, they can choose to transfer it into a locked-in plan. If that is done, then the opportunity to unlock the funds for the hardship reasons listed above could apply. Normally with locked-in funds, a 20% of YMPE withdrawal rule would apply to the actual, current balance of the plan. If you want to withdraw funds under the small amount rule, the plan balance would normally need to be equal to or less than 20% of YMPE.

I have 2 questions: can one transfer amounts from the new LIF into an RRSP?? If yes, how much and can it be ‘in kind’?? Secondly, if one starts minimum withdrawals from the new LIF, can they be suspended?? The person is 63 years old.

Hi Peter, You'll need to ask your financial institution that holds your LIF these questions.

It will depend on your financial institution and how things are setup. Hopefully they can give you an idea of how much time their process will take. However, in a best case scenario where your locked in RRSP is held at the same bank branch as your bank account, your reason for unlocking is easily verified (Small Balance Unlocking would be a good example), and you are dealing with someone at your branch who is familiar with unlocking funds, then you would receive your money immediately in the same way you would if you redeemed some normal RRSP funds. If more verification is required, people involved aren't familiar with unlocking locked in funds, or someone else's approval is required, then each of these factors could of course add more time to the process.

I am a former employee of the federal government and have a locked inLIRA held with my bank. Would I be able to access a potion due to financial hardship and how would I proceed?

Hi Laura, You'd need to do two things: 1) Identify the financial hardship reason that you qualify for, and then 2) make an appointment with someone at your bank who is familiar with locked-in funds. The person at the bank will then check to see if you qualify for the hardship reason and then process your redemption if you do qualify.

How long does it take to receive the funds I'm requesting from my Locked In RRSP? My bank called a week after I was there to say one form needed my signature which I believe is the bank's errorr, but does that delay the process? I'm really struggling.

The length of time it takes to receive your locked-in RRSP funds all depends on your financial institution, where the locked-in funds are held, and what they are invested in. If the funds are held at your branch in something as simple as a term deposit, you could receive the funds the same day if the person you're dealing with knows exactly what they are doing and doesn't require out-of-office approval. If your locked-in funds are located at a distant location or invested in some sort of fund, the redemption will take longer. Waiting for a week to receive your funds doesn't sound surprising, and yes, an error would delay the process further. When signatures are needed on legal arrangements like these, it doesn't matter if your financial institution made the mistake. They can't overlook it. They still need all the required signatures. Unlocking locked-in RRSP funds early is an unusual transaction that needs to be done properly according to the rules. So for someone to make a mistake in the process also wouldn’t be surprising. In the big scheme of things in the financial world, this would likely be a low priority transaction unless the person helping you understands the urgency of your financial situation and does their best to move it along quickly.

I have a federally locked in account and I had to enter into a consumer proposal. The terms are quite difficult and I have difficulty staying afloat and may have to declare bankruptcy if I cannot get some relief. I have a substantial amount locked in an would like to know if this would qualify for a financial hardship withdrawal.

Thanks for asking your question. Your locked-in money is only protected from your creditors as long as it stays in your locked-in RRSP. As soon as it comes out, your trustee needs to be informed, and it will likely need to be distributed to all your creditors. You'll only get what's left after they are all paid. So taking it out will only benefit your creditors. You should leave it in for your benefit when you retire. This leads to a more important point. A Consumer Proposal is supposed to provide you with debt relief. If it isn’t and you’re finding it too difficult, you should go and see your trustee and have a conversation with him or her about this. If bankruptcy is what’s going to work best for your situation, then that’s what you should do. If you drag out your Consumer Proposal but it ultimately collapses, then you could have wasted many years of making payments on it for nothing. Bankruptcy is way cheaper, faster, and has pretty much the same consequences as a Consumer Proposal. So don’t be afraid of it if it actually makes sense for your situation. Please go speak to your bankruptcy trustee about your situation. It sounds like they need to help you further. If you’d like another objective perspective on your situation, you could also make an appointment to speak with a local non-profit credit counselling organization and go over your situation with them.

Hi I noticed your answer concerning a consumer proposal and bankruptcy. That the trustee will take what you unlock. This only true if your locked rrsp is through a bank. If your rrsp is through a insurance company like SunLife the trustee can not touch it. Your rrsp’s are protected from a consumer proposal and bankruptcy through an insurance company

Hi Roland, Thanks for your comments. Our understanding of the question above is that the individual would like to unlock their funds for the purpose of fully redeeming them from their RRSP. They need this money to make ends meet. So their intention is to completely withdraw the funds from their RRSP. RRSPs are always protected from insolvency at every financial institution. The only thing that is not protected are recent contributions (last 12 months) to regular (non-locked-in) RRSPs. Regardless of who holds your locked-in RRSP, when you redeem the funds, you need to report this to your trustee if you are on a consumer proposal or going through the bankruptcy process (you have not been discharged). If you don't report it, then the government will eventually inform your trustee because all RRSP redemptions are reported to the government. For more information on this, someone should speak with their trustee (you can have a very frank or candid conversation with your trustee about any "hypothetical" situation like this).

Do not withdraw if you think you will have to declare bankruptcy. I just went through this and yes the trustee will take it and distribute to creditors

I have an income of roughly $10,000 expected for the year. I am doing an unlocking under a Federal plan for Financial Hardship. Two questions: 1/ will the lump sum that is being directed to my account have taxes taken out? (For example if I qualify for $20,000 unlocking will I only receive that amount minus 30% taxes?? Question 2/ where I have input the expected amount of income and for some reason I receive more money during this tax year at the end, how will I be affected? Will I have to give some of the money back??

Hi Lynn, Thanks for your question. Money in a locked-in plan is actually in an RRSP. It’s a locked-in RRSP. So when you withdraw money from it, the normal RRSP redemption rules would apply (10% will be withheld for income tax if you withdraw $5,000 or less. 20% will be withheld if you withdraw between $5,000 and $15,000. 30% will be withheld for income tax if you redeem over $15,000 from the RRSP). Since you have a low level of income, you could consider withdrawing $5,000 from the RRSP at a time – on different days – so that only 10% is withheld on each redemption. We would suggest that you consult a tax expert first or make sure that doing this won’t result in you owing extra tax at the end of the year that you don’t have the means to pay. These withholding tax amounts are meant to prevent individuals from ending up with sizable tax bill they can’t afford, but if you are sure that you won’t owe any more than 10% of your income in tax, then you could consider smaller redemption amounts. To answer your second question, we would recommend that you carefully read the qualifications for the redemption rule that you are redeem funds under. Most of the early redemption/hardship reasons qualify you for the redemption based on your current situation. If you qualify, then you’re good to go, any extra income you earn across the year doesn’t matter, and you don’t have to pay the funds back if you unexpectedly earn more money that year. Carefully read the hardship redemption rules that you are qualifying under and make sure that there is no future requirement to report your income for the year. If there isn’t, then there would be no problem, and you would only owe more as income tax if your income goes up. RRSP redemptions are of course counted as income. So if your income for the year was $10,000 but you then withdraw $20,000 from your locked-in RRSP, your annual income would then be $30,000.

I noticed a possible error in the way this was written by one of the staff of this web page. The person wrote: "Since you have a low level of income, you could consider withdrawing $5,000 from the RRSP at a time – on different days – so that only 10% is withheld on each redemption." I think this needs to be clarified. Possibly. I believe that you are only allowed to access the funds once per 12 months. The only way to access it 2x in a single 12 month period is if you do so within the first 30 days after you first applied for funds in that year. So if on January 1st 2020 I took out $5,000 from my LIRA ... I would get taxed at the lower rate yes.. I then normally would not be able to take any more out of the LIRA for 12 months. However I have read that if I quickly apply for more money (say another $5,000) within 30 days from the last application.. this is permitted? Is this not true?

Hi John, You raise an excellent point. It's important to read the redemption rules carefully to make sure you can put together a plan that will work. In the question asked, Lynn stated that her funds were locked in under Federal legislation. In her case she would have 30 days to make multiple withdrawals if she determined that this is what she wanted to do. She would then have to wait until the next calendar year to do this again if she had any money left in her plan and if she chose to do this again. With anything like this, it's always a good idea to run your plan by the financial professional helping you withdraw the funds so they can hopefully alert you to any problems with what you're planning to do. Bear in mind, though, that these types of transactions are not common. So you can't always expect front line staff at a financial institution to know a lot about this stuff. You really need to do your homework before entering into anything like this. Please don't rely on us to be experts on this topic either. We're just attempting to provide you with information that's available but is sometimes hard to track down.

Hello, I'm in Ontario and have agreed with my financial adviser to submit the paperwork for the unlocking due to mortgage arrears. He told me that it takes about 2-5 business days to approve and fund my checking account. But I have read that the financial institution has 30 days to approve and fund. Do you know what the average time it takes to approve and then fund the account so I can settle with my mortgage holder? Thanks!

The 2 – 5 business days sounds pretty normal. If the money isn’t in your chequing account within 5 business days, you should call and check and see what’s happening and again ask when they expect to have the money in your account. The redemption shouldn't take more than a week.

I currently have “federal” locked in funds. Trying to withdraw under “low income hardship”. I live in Saskatchewan, but it is not under the list, can I still withdraw under “federal”?

Thanks for asking your question. The legislation your funds are locked in under is the set of rules that govern your locked in funds. Once your funds are locked in under a set of rules, those are the rules that govern your plan - not the province you live in. So if your funds are locked in under Federal legislation, you are only going to follow the Federal legislation. The fact that you live in Saskatchewan is not relevant. The Federal legislation does allow someone to withdraw funds if they have "low income." So it sounds like you're in luck. If, however, your funds were locked in under Saskatchewan legislation (on your locked in RRSP documentation it tells you what legislation it is locked in under), then you would be out of luck because Saskatchewan legislation does not have a low income provision.

Hi there, I am withdrawing locked-in funds on the basis of non-residency in Canada. I have received a letter from CRA confirming that status. I am not sure if Form 1 needs to be filled out by my ex-husband. It states the form is not required when: "Form 1 is not required to withdraw locked-in benefits if the total benefit entitlement does not exceed the amount set out in the regulations made under section 69 (1) or (2) of the Pension Benefits Standards Act. Form 1 is not required if section 145 of the Family Law Act applies to determine the rights of the member/former member and spouse when the relationship ends. Confirmation that section 145 applies must be provided to the pension plan administrator, locked-in retirement account issuer or life income fund issuer." But I can't find what either of these sections are - the amount set out in section 69 nor what section 145 is. Can you point me in the right direction?