Getting legal help

Need a lawyer but can’t afford it?

Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) provides legal services for financially-eligible, low-income Ontarians in the following areas: domestic violence, family law, immigration and refugee law and criminal law.

Representation by a lawyer

If you’re financially eligible and have a legal matter that LAO covers, you may be able to apply for a certificate, which is like a voucher that you can use to “pay” a lawyer to represent you for a certain number of hours.

The lawyer must be one of the 3,600 private practice lawyers across the province who accepts legal aid certificates.

How do you qualify?

You will need to take a financial test to see if your gross income from all sources is within LAO’s eligibility guidelines.

If you are experiencing domestic violence, you may be eligible for a legal aid certificate under a separate set of financial eligibility guidelines.

If you have an income or own property, you may qualify for a certificate with a contribution agreement, where you will be required to repay LAO for some or all of your legal fees.

What legal matters are covered?

Services for vulnerable groups

Emergency situations

You are charged with a crime: You might go to jail.

You need legal help for a family matter: You want to legally separate from your partner. You might lose custody of your kids. You need more financial support from your ex-partner.

You are a refugee or immigrant: You are applying to stay in the country, or might get kicked out of the country.

You are experiencing (or have experienced) domestic violence: Domestic violence may include physical and sexual abuse. It can also include financial and emotional abuse.

Services for vulnerable groups

Does your income qualify?

Even if your legal matter qualifies for a certificate, you need to be financially eligible for a certificate. To find out whether you are financially eligible for a certificate, you’ll need to take a financial test to see if your gross income from all sources is within the range of the charts below.

If you are experiencing domestic violence, you may be eligible for a legal aid certificate under a separate set of financial eligibility guidelines.

If you have an income or own property, you may qualify for a certificate with a contribution agreement. This means you will be required to repay Legal Aid Ontario some or all of your legal fees.

The amount of money you earn to qualify for a certificate

Step 1: Certificate eligibility thresholds

You will likely qualify if your annual gross family income is lower than column 1. If it is higher, move to Step 2.

Step 2: Contribution agreement

Monthly payments may be required if your annual gross family income is higher than column 1, but lower than column 2.

Special financial eligibility if you are experiencing domestic violence

If you are experiencing domestic violence, you will likely qualify if your gross family income is lower than the amounts below. Learn more about domestic violence.

Number of family members Step 1, income Step 2, income For domestic violence, gross family
1 $14,453 $16,728 $22,720
2 $25,003 $30,110 $32,131
3 $28,503 $35,088 $39,352
4 $32,207 $40,307 $45,440
5+ $35,749 $45,446 $50,803
Single boarders $9,501 $10,973 N/A

What happens if you're not eligible for the certificate program?

If you are not eligible for LAO’s certificate program, there are other services available. Learn more about community legal clinics, duty counsel, our toll-free number, and family law services.

It is possible, in some cases, to appeal LAO’s decision relating to eligibility for the certificate program. Learn more about making an appeal or complaint.

Duty counsel and summary legal advice services eligibility

You will likely qualify for duty counsel/summary legal advice assistance if gross family income is below these levels:

Duty counsel and summary legal advice services eligibility, Nov. 1, 2014 to Mar. 31, 2015
Number of family members Income must be lower than
1 $22,720
2 $32,131
3 $39,352
4 $45,440
5+ $50,803

Contribution agreements

If you have an income or own property, you may qualify for a certificate with a contribution agreement. This means you will be required to repay LAO some or all of your legal fees, based on your income level.

A contribution agreement outlines how much you will repay LAO.

How do contribution agreements work?

You must take a financial test to determine if you are eligible for Legal Aid Ontario’s certificate program. If you qualify for a certificate, you might be required to sign a contribution agreement, depending on your income level. If you agree to the contribution agreement, Legal Aid Ontario will give you a certificate that will help you retain a lawyer.

How much will I have to repay?

LAO implemented the second of three annual six per cent financial eligibility increases for all the certificate and duty counsel services it provides, including the amount of income level that requires you to sign a contribution agreement.

The chart below provides guidelines for the income levels needed to qualify for services. Generally, if your income falls in the range outlined in the chart below, you will be asked to sign a contribution agreement. To see what your monthly payments will be, find your income level below and the contribution amount. Some exceptions do apply, and the legal aid staff person who takes your application will be able to give you more information.

Number of family members Gross annual income ranges Monthly contribution amount
1 $14,453 to $16,728 $50 /month
2 $25,003 to $30,110 $50 /month
3 $28,503 to $35,088 $75 /month
4 $32,207 to $40,307 $75 /month
5+ $35,749 to $45,446 $115 /month
Single boarders (paying and non-paying) $9,501 to $10,973 $50 /month

What if I don’t want a contribution agreement? What if I think the payments are too high?

You can only request a review of a contribution agreement for two reasons:

  1. You are in debt
  2. You have high medical expenses

To request a review, you must go through the appeals process.

How do I make payments to Legal Aid Ontario?

There are several ways for you to make payments to your contribution agreement:

At the bank
Pre-authorized payment plan

If you have a bank account, you can enroll in the pre-authorized payment plan. This option allows you to have your payment automatically deducted from your bank account each month, on a pre-selected date. If you would like to enroll in this option, fill out the authorization agreement. Remember to attach a void cheque for the account you wish to use, and to sign the agreement.

Telephone banking, Internet banking, Instabank
^