At a time when more and more British Columbians are out of work, changes are on the way to improve the province's welfare system.

After nearly four years of investigation, the B.C. Ombudsman has made 28 recommendations aimed at making the program more accessible for applicants.

The detailed report, released Monday, includes a mandate of providing applicants with a clear explanation of the steps involved, reducing the distances applicants in rural areas have to travel and working to make sure people with immediate needs are helped quickly.

Ombudsman Kim Carter says the report is especially important in a province that lost more than 14,000 jobs in early 2009.

"Given the current economic situation, more British Columbians may be forced to rely on income assistance programs," Carter said.

"This highlights the importance of ensuring that these programs are run in a fair, accessible, transparent and accountable way."

Advocates say the changes are a long time coming. Sarah Khan of the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre (BC PIAC) has lobbied for more than three years for the government to make amendments.

"A lot of people think if you run out of money or you have an illness or you suffer from some kind of injury that you just go to a welfare office apply for income assistance and you get it," said Khan.

"Things have been very difficult for people trying to access income assistance in B.C."

The majority of Monday's recommendations have been accepted by the Ministry of Housing and Social Development.

"We're completely thrilled," says Khan.

"It's going to create much more fair and accessible income assistance in the province."

The Ombudsman's report was initiated following complaints about the welfare system by the BC PIAC in 2005.

With a report from CTV British Columbia's Maria Weisgarber