Legal Aid Eligibility and Coverage in Canada

Data Analyses (continued)

Data Analyses (continued)


The Saskatchewan Legal Aid Commission bases its guidelines primarily on those criteria found in Saskatchewan's social assistance regulations. The legal aid society examines both net yearly income and assets in their assessments of applicants' eligibility.

Their definition of family can include one- or two-person families with or without children. While they use the term "children," it actually also implies dependents. Because the after-tax LICO is based on family size, we had to catalogue all the possible implications for the term family. For example, a family with one child can mean a single-parent family with one child or a couple with one child; each has the same income cut-off, but the family size is different. A lone-parent family with a child equals two people, and a couple with a child equals three people.

There are set assets exemptions as in the social assistance guidelines. A single-person family is allotted $1,500; a two-person family is allotted $3,000; and a family with one or more children is allotted $3,500. This is actually lower than social assistance, which allows for an extra $500 for every additional family member.

Table 4-3

Because the legal aid plan does not distinguish between one and two-parent families per se, the income guidelines are the same for a lone-parent family with one child and a couple with one child. The low income cut-off, however, is not the same because it is based on size. This obviously affects whether the guideline is above or below the LICO. As we see in Table 4-3, in rural areas, the income guidelines for lone-parent families rest above the LICO, while the same category for two-parent families falls below. The income guidelines for families with 6 or more children all rest above the LICO in rural areas. This is partly explained by the fact that low income cut-offs do not take into consideration families that have more than 7 members. For all other urban areas, the maximum net annual income guidelines rest above the LICO, except for families with 8 children. The income guidelines for couples with children demonstrate the greatest disparity with the LICO at all city sizes.

Observing the "income + assets " category, we find that the guidelines for single-person families quickly fall below LICO levels, starting with the small urban centres with fewer than 30,000 people by a small amount of $75 to $3,590 for large cities of more than 500,000 people. The "income + assets" levels for lone-parent families with one child and those families with very large families (over 7 children) rest above the LICO up until the largest city size. In all other instances, the low income cut-offs are greater than the guidelines.

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

Table 5-3

In Table 5-3, we find that 8.9% of families in Saskatchewan would qualify for legal aid. No families that were above the LICO would qualify. Sixty-six percent of poor families would meet the income guidelines. Seventy-three percent of low income single-person families and two-person families would qualify. Yet, over three-quarters of larger families, those with three or more members, would not qualify.

In all, 36,900 low-income families would pass the income criteria, while 20,000 would not.


The Legal Aid Services Society sets the guidelines based on gross income and family size. They also examine assets and liabilities before determining eligibility. Again, it should be noted that Manitoba feels these are guidelines and each situation is assessed on a case-by-case basis. An applicant becomes eligible in one of three ways:

  • full eligibility (without having to pay) - applicant is below the fully eligible guidelines;
  • partial eligibility (pay some fixed part of the cost) - applicant is above the fully eligible guidelines but below the next level;
  • expanded eligibility (pay full cost) - applicant is above the partial eligibility guidelines but below the maximum level.
The analysis examines the "fully eligible" and the "expanded eligibility" income levels and compares them to the pre-tax LICO.

Table 4-4

In Table 4-4, we see that in rural areas, the guidelines for full eligibility, for all family sizes, except for single-person families rest above the LICO. As the size of the urban areas increases, the income guidelines for full eligibility fall below the LICO. The disparity becomes greater with each increase of urban area size.

The expanded eligibility guidelines, on the other hand, are almost all above the LICO levels. In fact, they are substantially above the LICO for rural areas and for areas with populations less than 30,000. We see a difference of between $5,500 and almost $10,000. By the mid-level cities, we see a shift whereby there is a greater difference between the guidelines and the LICO for the smaller families compared to the larger families. For example, the surplus over the LICO for a single-person family in a mid-level city is $6,500 compared to $2,900 for a family of 7. In fact, for urban areas larger than 500,000 people, only the guidelines for families with one to three members rest above the LICO. Given how great the surplus is for the extended eligibility guidelines, one expects to find that a larger proportion of Manitoba will qualify for legal aid.

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

Table 5-4

Observing Table 5-4, under the fully eligible criteria, over 71,700 families[48] in Manitoba would be eligible for legal aid. This number dramatically increases when one examines the expanded eligibility guidelines. Here, we find that almost 36% of families, both poor and non-poor, would be eligible. We expect to see such a difference given the reasoning behind the expanded eligibility guidelines. They are meant to help those families who would be considered the "near poor." Therefore, it is not surprising that we find that almost 100% of families would qualify for legal aid, at least from an income standpoint. Yet, when one examines the fully eligible category, about 60% of poor families would be eligible for free legal aid.

Seventy-five to 76% of families with three or four members would qualify for legal aid under this category, compared to a little over half, 55%, of single-person families. This is consistent with our findings from the gaps between the guidelines and the LICO. For the expanded eligibility category, all families with one to three members would be eligible, whereas we see a small percentage of those in larger families would not. Again, this is consistent with our earlier findings. The guidelines for larger families in urban areas of 500,000+ fell below the LICO.

The expanded eligibility allows for almost all families to qualify for legal aid.

[48] This represents 15% of poor families (70,600 families).

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