Legal Aid Eligibility and Coverage in Canada

Data Analyses (continued)

Data Analyses (continued)

Ontario

Financial eligibility is determined through a means test. It takes into account net income and family size but also considers the expenses and liabilities of the applicants. Applicants who meet "income waiver" levels are not subject to the detailed assessment of assets. Applicants whose incomes are above the waiver levels by family size undergo a more detailed assessment of their financial viability. Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) sets out a series of allowances: a basic allowance, a shelter allowance, boarder allowance (for those who pay and those who don't) and a debt allowance (for further details refer to Section 1).

The LAO utilizes net income in its analyses. Liquid assets are also considered when assessing eligibility. Exemptions for liquid assets include - $1,000 for single person families, $1,500 for a two-person family and $2,000 for families with three or more members.

The system used by LAO to determine financial eligibility does not separate eligibility for contributory and non-contributory legal aid into completely distinct categories. As described above at pages 18 and 19, there is an "income waiver" category within which the lowest income applicants are assessed against income and family size levels only, so long as they do not exceed the assets test. Applicants approved for legal aid within the income waiver category would receive non-contributory or free legal aid. In addition, the LAO system has a "net maximum annual allowances" category that takes into account both income levels for various family size groupings plus assets and liabilities. Applicants who are approved to receive service within this category may be granted non-contributory legal aid or may be asked to make a contribution toward the service. In their application, these categories blend into one another.

It is difficult to calculate the proportion of the poor who would be eligible for non-contributory legal aid given the two overlapping categories. Calculations indicate that about 35% of poor families in Ontario and about 37% of low income individuals aged 18-35, as measured by LICO standards, would be eligible for non-contributory legal aid within the income waiver category. However, about 95% of poor Ontario families and 98% of low income individuals aged 18 to 35 would be eligible for legal aid under the maximum allowance category. Some of this estimated proportion would be eligible for free legal aid and some would be asked to make a contribution. The 35 to 37% figure is clearly too low to accurately represent the percentage of poor families who would receive non-contributory legal aid, and the 95 to 98% figure is to some extent too high. Graphs and tables in this report referring to Ontario use both figures, taking into account the qualifications and the nature of the Ontario system as described here.

Table 4-5

Examining the Tables in 4-5, one finds that the income waiver allowances are below the after-tax LICO for all family sizes and for all size of communities, with one exception. The income allowance for a family of two is above the LICO in rural areas, by a surplus of $1,292. The income allowance for a family of two remains the category with the smallest difference from the LICO.

Including the assets does not drastically improve the allowances ability to surpass the after-tax low income cut-offs, with some exceptions. The allowances for single-person to three-person families rest above the low income cut-offs for rural areas and for two-person families in communities with less than 30,000 people.

The maximum allowances are much more generous, surpassing the LICO for all family sizes and for all community sizes.

Examination of how many families are eligible for legal aid, given the legal aid financial eligibility rules (income guidelines)

Table 5-5

In Table 5-5, the income waiver allowances would permit 220,900 (4.8%) families in Ontario to qualify for free legal aid. Almost no families above the LICO would qualify for this service. Among the low income families in Ontario, 36% would qualify for free legal aid without further examination of family expenditure and liabilities. The maximum allowance levels would allow 17.5% of all families in Ontario to qualify, with almost all poor families eligible to qualify and 6.5% of families above the low income cut-offs.

While almost 95% of all poor families, of varying sizes, would be eligible under the maximum allowances, fewer are eligible under the income waiver allowances. Thirty-one percent of single-person families would be eligible under the income waiver allowances. This increases to 56% for two-parent families and decreases to a low of 24% for families with four or more members. Under the maximum allowances, only low income single-person families would be at a slight disadvantage. Apparently, 91.4% of these families are able to qualify.

Under the income waiver allowance, 219,100 poor families in Ontario, would qualify while under the maximum allowances, 576,900 would be eligible. Even using the maximum allowances, 31,300 families would still not be eligible in the strictest sense.

Québec [49]

Québec's legal aid criteria were revamped in 1996 to allow for greater flexibility in their financial eligibility criteria. Québec now has a system whereby an applicant can be eligible for either free legal aid or be eligible through a contribution (between $100 and $800).

An applicant can exceed one of the three eligibility ceilings (income, property and liquid assets) and may still be eligible for legal aid through a contribution.

Income is defined as gross income and assets including property and liquid assets. In this part of the analysis, we include the liquid assets that are exempt - $2,500 for a single-person family and $5,000 for a husband-wife family. To examine the expanded eligibility levels, we use the maximum allowable levels with the applicant still receiving legal aid.

It should also be noted that Québec allows for a 20% increase in the income guidelines in small communities. As such, we have calculated the income guidelines in the rural areas with a 20% increase adjustment and one without (simply as a means of comparison).

Table 4-6

What becomes evident is that without the 20% adjustment for the rural areas, the free legal aid guidelines are all below the LICO. For the "income+assets" category, single-parent families with one or more children and couples without children or with one child have limits above the LICO levels; the rest fall below. Even the maximum annual income levels do not surpass the LICO for all family sizes. Families with more than two children all have limits that fall below the LICO.

Adding the 20% adjustment to the rural areas has almost no effect on the free legal aid limits. All limits continue to rest below the LICO. Although, the income limits for lone-parent families with one child and couples fall below the LICO only by a small amount ($178). The "income + assets" category is, for the most part, greater than the LICO, except for families with four or more children. The maximum annual level has a similar trend to the "income + assets." The levels are greater than the LICO except for lone-parent families with more than four children and two-parent families with five or more children.

In urban areas, the only times that the guidelines surpass the LICO levels is for lone-parent families with one child and couples without children in the "income + assets" category and for the maximum annual levels, but only in communities with fewer than 30,000 people.

Examination of how many families are eligible for legal aid, given the legal aid financial eligibility rules (income guidelines)

For this part of the analysis, we examine the income levels for free legal aid and the maximum annual income levels for contributory legal aid.

Table 5-6

In Table 5-6, we find that 311,600 (9.7%)[50] of families in Québec would qualify for free legal aid, based on income alone, compared to 19.5% of all families with the expanded criteria. No families above the LICO would be eligible for free legal aid, and less than 1% would be eligible under the expanded criteria. Under the expanded criteria, almost 70% of poor families would be eligible and only half of those would be eligible for free legal aid.

The proportion of low-income single-person families that qualify for free legal aid is 39%; the proportion is higher for three-person families but dramatically decreases for larger families, those with four or more members, dropping to 15%.

The expanded eligibility allows a higher proportion of low-income families of all sizes to qualify. About 71.5% of single-person families would qualify with a contribution, the smallest proportion is for larger families - 57% of families with four or more members would qualify. While the expanded criteria increases the proportion of poor families that qualify, it still leaves 273,500 poor families who would not qualify based on income alone.


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