One of the central lessons taken from the work of Michael Lipsky on street level bureaucracies is that street level bureaucrats make policy. Two resulting broad public policy concerns are the impact of street level decision making on public policy and the impact on citizens’ access to public services. This article reports on a study of the views of Ontario Works’ case managers on the nature of bureaucratic discretion in the setting of a highly rule bound provincial income assistance programme in Canada. The focus of this article is on case managers’ interaction with contradictory and complex policy directives. An argument is developed that in such a restrictive policy setting, meeting the goals of unswerving policy implementation and citizen access to public services may work at cross purposes.