An Analysis of Poverty Law Services in Canada

Part Two: Poverty law services provided by community organizations

Part Two: Poverty law services provided by community organizations (continued)

Nova Scotia

Three community organizations were interviewed in Nova Scotia. Two of these organizations do not have any restrictions on the clients they will assist, while the third group primarily serves people who have been referred to them through Nova Scotia legal aid. All of the organizations interviewed are located in Halifax.

Types of Poverty Law Services

Public Legal Education
All of the organizations interviewed in Nova Scotia distribute written materials, and two groups also organize educational activities such as workshops, information sessions, and presentations at public events.
Referrals
All of the organizations interviewed refer clients to a range of legal and community resources as appropriate to the clients needs.
Preparation of Legal Aid Applications
Only Dalhousie Legal Services assists clients with the preparation of legal aid applications.
Advice
Two organizations provide advice to clients, although the advice provided by one group is general in nature and primarily concerns income assistance.
Advocacy
Only Dalhousie Legal Services provides advocacy services to clients.
Public legal education

Dalhousie Legal Services has a community legal worker who works in the community to provide workshops and educational seminars. In addition, this organization strives to support, educate, and work with community agencies, providing information and workshops tailored to particular service areas (for example, information on changes to social assistance legislation).

The Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia is essentially an information provision agency. Information primarily is dispensed over the phone, although the organization does have a collection of written materials compiled from other groups. The respondent from this agency noted that staff responded to over 9,000 calls in 2000-2001, and that another 12,000 inquiries were received by the pre-recorded, toll-free legal information line. The Legal Information Society has done workshops in the past, and currently has a speaker's bureau to arrange public talks on a variety of topics.

The North End Community Health Centre is not involved in the organization of public legal education events, but this group does have pamphlets and other written materials produced by other organizations available for distribution.

Referrals

The respondent from Dalhousie Legal Services noted that staff primarily refer clients to other legal resources, including the Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia and legal aid. For legal matters beyond staff expertise, the Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia and the North End Community Health Centre refer people to legal aid and to Dalhousie Legal Services. Both of these organizations also refer clients to a variety of other community resources, as appropriate to the client's needs and the legal issue.

Advice

Dalhousie Legal Services provides advice to clients in the same manner as legal aid, although a respondent from this group noted that staff first try to provide people with the tools they need to help themselves, through education and information. The North End Community Health Centre also provides some advice, particularly in terms of ensuring that people know their legal rights in welfare issues, how the system works, the options available to them, and what to expect. No direct legal advice is provided by this organization. The Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia does not provide clients with any advice; its activities are limited to the provision of general information. However, the Society does operate a lawyer referral service through which clients can speak to a lawyer for 30 minutes at a cost of $20.

Advocacy

As with legal aid, Dalhousie Legal Services will provide legal representation to clients in a variety of poverty law matters (although income assistance is the primary service area). The other two organizations interviewed in Nova Scotia do not offer any advocacy services.

Two organizations interviewed in Nova Scotia provided some limited data on the services offered by their organizations. One organization had recently conducted a user-survey of 100 clients, the results of which indicate the following breakdown of clients across various poverty law issues.

Number and Type of Poverty Law Inquiries, 2001
Type of Poverty Law Issue Number of Inquiries
Income Assistance 1
Landlord/tenant 9
Debtor/Creditor 6
Employment 9
TOTAL 25*

* According to survey results, the total number of inquiries on these four issues constituted one quarter of all inquiries tracked for the survey. Family law was by far the largest area in which inquiries were received by this organization, accounting for the services provided to 53 percent of survey respondents
Source: Data provided by organization.

Data was also collected on the number of calls made to the Legal Information Line and the Lawyer Referral Service in 2000 and 2001. As the chart below indicates, the number of calls received on landlord/tenant and employment matters grew significantly over this period.

Type of Poverty Law Issue Number of Calls in 2000 Number of Calls in 2001
Income Assistance 164 431
Landlord/tenant 366 431
Debtor/Creditor 551 557
Employment 506 560

Source: Data provided by organization.

Two organizations submitted information on the sex and age of their clientele. For what is called Organization A in the chart, this data pertains to all inquiries received in 2000, not just those concerning poverty law. For Organization B, the information is for poverty law clients in the 2000-2001 fiscal year. For both organizations, women and adults constituted the vast majority of clients. In addition, client services were disproportionately likely to be delivered in English.

Organization A
SEX Female 60
Male 40
AGE Under 19 0
Age 20-35 43
Age 36-55 40
55 and over 17
LANGUAGE* English 88
French 1
Other 11


Organization B
SEX Female 64
Male 36
AGE Under 18 25
Age 18-40 47
41 and over 28
LANGUAGE* English 99
French 0
Other 1

* Refers to the language in which services are provided.
Source: Data collection charts for Nova Scotia.

With respect to ethnic origin, Organization A reported that clients were made up predominantly by Anglo-Canadians (65 percent), followed by French Canadian (7 percent), Black (5 percent), Native (4 percent), and other or unknown (19 percent). Organization B reported that 5 percent of its clients are of First Nations ethnicity.

Only one organization provided any cost information on its poverty law services. No specific data was available for particular types of services, but the respondent reported that the cost of all services in 2000-2001 was $430,000.

Types of poverty law issues

Employment Insurance (EI)

One organization provides a full range of assistance in EI matters, although this is not an area where the group receives many inquiries. The other two organizations may provide some basic information if requested, but EI is not a primary issue for them either.

Canada Pension Plan/Old Age Security (CPP/OAS)

This is a significant area of service delivery for one organization, with assistance ranging from information to representation at appeals. The other two organizations may provide some basic information if requested, but this is not an area in which they often provide assistance.

Income assistance (IA)

For two organizations, IA is one of two main issues in which the most requests for assistance are received. For one organization, the assistance provided extends to legal representation at appeals of benefit denials. The third organization primarily refers people to government resources for more information on IA issues.

Housing and landlord/tenant

Housing and landlord/tenant matters are the second of the two significant issue areas for two organizations interviewed in Nova Scotia. For one organization, the assistance provided extends to legal representation at tribunals; a respondent for the other organization noted that utility disconnection is a key area of work. The third organization has information and materials available on housing and landlord/tenant issues, and does some public speaking in this area.

Workers’ Compensation (WCB)

Two organizations provide assistance in WCB cases, although this is not an area in which one of the groups receives many inquiries. The third organization refers people elsewhere for WCB issues.

Debtor/creditor

Two organizations provide assistance in debtor/creditor cases, although this is not an area in which one of the groups receives many inquiries. The third organization does not assist people in this area.

Staffing and funding information

Types of staff

Two of the organizations interviewed in Nova Scotia employ lawyers, including the one agency that provides legal representation. One group also has community legal workers on staff. These employees do not generally provide legal advice, although they do represent people at income assistance appeals. Two organizations also rely on law students to provide information and advice to clients. The third organization is staffed by social workers.

Sources of funding

One organization receives most of its funding from legal aid Nova Scotia, although some financial support also comes from universities and the Law Foundation. Before legal aid became the primary source of funds, this agency was primarily supported by the Law Foundation and the provincial government. The respondent characterized the funding structure of this organization as unstable.

The Law Foundation is also a funder for a second organization interviewed in Nova Scotia, along with the provincial and federal departments of Justice and internal fundraising campaigns. A respondent from this agency characterized its funding as stable, despite the fact that it is reviewed on a yearly basis. The provincial Ministry of Health funds the third organization. According to a respondent from this group, funding is unstable, in the sense that it has not kept pace with changing needs.

Strengths and challenges of available poverty law services

The following section presents respondents’ comments concerning what is working well, what is not working well, and any key gaps within the current system for delivering poverty law services in Nova Scotia.

Problem areas
Lack of poverty law services

All three organizations interviewed in Nova Scotia reported that there is an overall lack of services available for poverty law. One respondent suggested that poverty law issues often have to be covered on a pro bono basis in conjunction with a claim in another area, resulting in significant limitations on the number of cases that can be handled. Poverty law needs to be seen as a legitimate area for the provision of legal services in and of itself. In the current system, people who have genuine needs are not always able to access services.

Respondents from two different organizations highlighted the fact that there is a lack of support for poverty law on the part of both legal aid and the broader community, with the result that people do not have a sufficient range of options for legal representation. Community organizations have tried to take on some of the burden of providing legal assistance, but they have been unable to completely fill the gaps that exist. According to one person, this is particularly the case in rural areas.

Lack of funding

Three respondents linked the lack of poverty law services available in Nova Scotia to the general lack of funding in this area. In the absence of sufficient financial support, poverty law services have not been further developed.

Success stories
Individualized approach to service delivery

One respondent cited the availability of one-on-one assistance, commenting that it is an effective way of providing poverty law services. This approach enables community organizations to offer clients individualized assistance.

New Brunswick

Two community organizations were interviewed in New Brunswick, both located in Saint John. One organization assists all people who come in, although the focus of this group is on labour issues. The other organization relies primarily on income to determine eligibility for assistance, insofar as the focus of this group is on serving low-income people. A respondent from this agency also suggested that, while family law is not a specific target area, a lot of requests for assistance are received in this area. Generally, the organization tries to provide whatever help is needed to clients.

Types of Poverty Law Services

Public Legal Education
Neither organization interviewed in New Brunswick provides any public legal education.
Referrals
Staff at both organizations will provide clients with referrals, although one respondent noted that this is not a common service.
Preparation of Legal Aid Applications
Saint John Legal Centre staff help prepare legal aid applications, but staff at Labour Community Services do not.
Advice
Both organizations provide general and legal advice, although one largely relies on relationships with private bar lawyers to collect information to relay to clients.
Advocacy
Both organizations provide advocacy or legal representation in various poverty law issues.
Referrals

Saint John Legal Centre refers clients to legal aid for criminal matters, and to other community organizations as appropriate to the need of the client for civil matters. The respondent from Labour Community Services noted that referrals are not a primary kind of assistance provided by staff, although they will refer on certain issues. It was noted that there are very few poverty law resources to which to refer people in New Brunswick - legal aid provides no coverage in this area, and, according to the respondent, there are no other community organizations that provide assistance in poverty law matters. A respondent from Labour Community Services noted that this organization does have a relationship with some private bar lawyers who will sometimes provide assistance to clients on a pro bono basis.

Advice

Saint John Legal Centre provides legal advice in poverty law cases. According to the respondent, this organization essentially offers the same range of services as would be available from private bar lawyers. Labour Community Services offers general advice as well as some legal advice. The respondent noted that legal advice is typically gleaned from conversations with some private bar lawyers with whom staff have a relationship. The information, and advice on available options, is then relayed to the client.

Advocacy

As noted above, staff at the Saint John Legal Centre essentially provide the same range of services as private bar lawyers, so legal representation is provided in a variety of poverty law and other matters (notably family law, which the respondent indicated is a common issue). Labour Community Services staff will act as advocates for clients at EI, CPP, and WCB appeals. However, the respondent noted that advocacy services will only be provided up to a certain level - beyond that, clients are referred to private bar lawyers.

Types of poverty law issues

Employment Insurance (EI)

Both organizations interviewed in New Brunswick assist people with EI cases, including the provision of representation/advocacy at appeals of benefit denials. For one organization, this is its third largest area of work.

Canada Pension Plan/Old Age Security (CPP/OAS)

Both organizations interviewed in New Brunswick assist people with CPP/OAS cases, including the provision of representation/advocacy at appeals of benefit denials. This is the area of most cases for one organization.

Income assistance (IA)

Only one organization provides assistance in this area, including representation/advocacy at tribunals. The other organization may refer clients elsewhere on IA issues.

Housing and landlord/tenant

Only one organization provides assistance in this area, including representation/advocacy at tribunals. The other organization does not provide any services in such matters.

Workers’ Compensation (WCB)

Both organizations interviewed in New Brunswick assist people with WCB cases, including the provision of representation/advocacy at appeals of benefit denials. This is the second largest area of work for one organization.

Debtor/Creditor

One organization provides assistance in this area, including representation/advocacy at tribunals. The other organization only offers general information/advice and referrals.

Other

One organization will assist people with a wide range of issues, depending on the needs of the client. The other organization highlighted income tax assistance as an additional service provided by staff.

Staffing and funding information

Types of staff

The only staff providing service at one organization is a lawyer. The other organization has two advocates on staff and sometimes has practicum law students.

Sources of funding

One organization has charitable status and so depends entirely on donations. The respondent from this group noted that funding is constantly insufficient. The other organization is funded largely by the United Way, although some support is also delivered through the Labour Council and private donations. The respondent from this organization characterized funding as unstable.

Strengths and challenges of available poverty law services

The following section presents respondents’ comments concerning what is working well, what is not working well, and key gaps within the current system for delivering poverty law services in their province.

Problem areas
Lack of poverty law services

One respondent noted that there are too few options for people in needs of advice and assistance in poverty law services.. According to this respondent, clients often want more than information and advice, particularly when they are ill-equipped to negotiate the legal system on their own. If these people do not have access to adequate legal representation, it is unlikely that the courts can make fair and informed decisions.

Lack of funding

One respondent highlighted the fact that there is an overall lack of funding for the delivery of poverty law services, and that the funding that is available is not available on a stable or consistent basis. In the absence of sufficient funding to provide a solid base of services, the poverty law system as a whole is unstable.

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