In Canada, people who have low income can get legal advice and representation from the government, which we call “legal aid. However, the authority assesses several things to check the eligibility for legal aid in Canada, such as health status, location, income, safety, etc.
Let’s know how you qualify for legal aid and what criteria you must maintain for this.
First Things First— What is the Importance of Legal Aid?
Life is all about ups and downs. There are times you may go through several life problems, such as losing homes, unemployment, divorce, child custody, or any financial crisis. In such situations, the Canadian legal aid program helps those in need to overcome the crisis moment.
Legal aid can be in financial help or legal consultation required to face complex criminal offences.
A legal aid lawyer can help you with such cases. They handle such cases out of court, litigate on your behalf and bring systematic changes. Hence, every year, many people get legal aid from this program.
How Can I Qualify for Legal Aid in Canada?
You can qualify for legal aid when you have little or no money remaining after getting your basic necessities—housing, food, etc. However, some may even get legal aid when they have a home or some savings in the bank.
Some examples who received legal aid benefits are:
- Economically disadvantaged persons
- Young persons accused of a complex criminal offence
- Divorced or separated partners seeking child support
- Domestic violence victims
- People seeking child support, access or custody
- A person facing addiction or mental health problems
- People who want Canadian immigration status
- People facing deportation
- Persons who faced workplace sexual harassment
You can get little or full support for the legal costs based on your financial situation. However, the guidelines for financial eligibility may vary in different situations discussed below:
When you want to qualify for legal aid – like duty counsel assistance – you must meet some financial requirements. For example, you have a lower annual gross income that doesn’t meet the financial threshold for your family.
You can find certain centers that will help you after you qualify. In most law firms, you can get a free consultation from lawyers. Also, they can provide you with referrals to the centers.
Lawyer representation (Certificate program)
When you have a legal aid certificate, a private practice lawyer will accept your case and represent you for an allocated number of hours. However, you should know that these lawyers must get paid for that time.
You can take the financial eligibility test to determine whether you’re eligible for this program. Like other categories, you must meet some requirements to qualify for the legal aid certificate program. This means that the annual gross income should be lower than the family size.
Domestic violence (Certificate program)
In some cases, if people face domestic violence or require child protection, they can contact legal aid services. In this case, you don’t require financial eligibility to get a free consultation from a lawyer.
After this consultation, you might get a legal aid certificate if you can meet the financial eligibility. This certificate balances the legal aid fees that you need to pay.
If you face domestic violence, you can get a certificate when you:
- have an issue, like a contested issue, to get a legal service
- a domestic violence survivor
- got no criminal record
- have charges for assaulting a violent partner
- have an ongoing family law issue
- are identified as Metis, Inuit or First Nation
- have a continuous refugee status claim
Read More: Who Qualifies for Legal Aid?
What is a Contribution Agreement?
In some exceptions, you may qualify for a certificate program when your annual gross income is higher compared to the financial eligibility limit.
This can happen when:
- the annual gross income is lower than the income level (second set)
- entering the contribution agreement
The contribution agreement is a legal agreement that outlines the terms and conditions, including the annual gross family income which you require to repay to legal aid. You will sometimes be required to pay back all or some of your legal fees.
You can pay through monthly payments after the legal aid services permits. You may also find the payments too high and avoid signing the agreement. So you can request to review your agreement again in two cases:
- you have debts
- you got high medical costs
More About Legal Aid Services in Canada
Here are a few more things to know about the legal aid program.
In the legal aid office, a legal assistant calculates your annual gross income. This value includes the net income of you and other family members.
What can you include in the monthly income?
The legal assistant will add a few categories to the monthly income:
- your business income
- benefits of old age security
- benefits of the Canada pension plan
- benefits of social assistance
- disability benefits and pensions
- spousal support
- child support
- rental property
- boarders money
- spouse income
- common-law partner income
- who lives for 2 or more years
- your child’s mother or father
What can’t you include in the monthly income?
As the legal assistant will calculate the annual gross income, they are also responsible for subtracting the allowable deductions.
Here’s a list of a few things that they would exclude:
- the benefit of the child tax
- family bonus
- GST payments
- Book or tuition fees under provincial or federal student loans
- Children’s income
There are certain factors under allowable deductions, like:
- Mandatory deductions of your income (EI, CPP and income tax)
- Daycare expenses
- Payments of medical service plan
- Spousal or child maintenance payments
- Court fines (you or your partner can go to jail for not paying them)
- Child access visit’s travel cost
- Medical expenses
- Dental expenses
The legal aid office’s legal assistant will review all your assets to determine whether you are eligible for the program.
Some assets may include:
The different categories of assets are:
- Real property (this excludes family homes)
- Business assets
- Family home
- Personal property
All of these categories have different limits. Whether your assets can be sold, the assistant will make decisions with some exceptions. However, if you have properties, you should provide the legal officer’s updated documents or mortgage statements.
The annual gross income should be lower than your household size. You can contact a lawyer to know more about these details. They deal with such issues regularly. Hence they can suggest the best advice for you.
By now, you got the answer to “how can I qualify for legal aid.” You can easily qualify if you meet these requirements. However, when a legal assistant says you don’t qualify, you can ask them to review their decision.
Many online guides can help you to review your legal aid document again. But, to avoid such situations, you should seek legal advice. The lawyers will help you to understand the process in detail.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who is eligible for legal aid in Canada?
Eligible, economically disadvantaged individuals facing the possibility of incarceration after being charged with serious and/or complex crimes; those facing proceedings under Part XX. 1 of the Criminal Code; those facing proceedings under the Extradition Act; and those facing appeals by the Crown or, in some circumstances, their own appeal.
Who automatically qualifies for legal aid?
If you receive Income Support, income-based Jobseekers Allowance, income-based Employment and Support Allowance, or Pension Guarantee Credit, your income will automatically qualify. If your monthly discretionary income does not exceed £733, you will also be eligible.
What is the income threshold for legal aid?
If you have a low income or get income-related benefits like income support, an income-related ESA or a job-related JSA, you may be eligible for legal assistance. You will not be eligible for legal assistance if your monthly income, excluding PIP or DLA, exceeds £2657.
Do you have to repay legal aid?
Legal assistance is considered as a loan. Depending on your income, the property you possess, and whether you obtain any money or property as a result of your case, you could need to pay back some or all of your legal assistance.