Legal Aid Eligibility and Coverage in Canada

Data Analyses (continued)

Data Analyses (continued)

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia's financial eligibility criteria are primarily based on gross income. Assets are examined only when legal aid feels that it is necessary. They state they apply their criteria with great discretion. However, there is no way for applicants to bridge the gap if they are substantially above the guidelines.

The legal aid plan uses family type as their definition of family. They distinguish between one and two-adult families. A dependent can be a child, another family member or person dependent on the applicant. The two types are accorded different income cut-offs, with the two-adult families given a higher level.

Table 4-7 - Nova Scotia

Overall, when we examine Table 4-7, we observe that for rural areas, the legal aid guidelines are above the LICO, for one and two adult families. As the city size gets larger, we see a shortfall in the guidelines compared to the LICO. Only one adults and one dependent families and couples have income cut-offs that are almost congruent with the LICO (a shortfall of between $317 and $343). For all other urban centres, the LICO values remain greater than the cut-offs. It is within the largest city size that the legal aid plans guidelines and the LICO are at their greatest disparity. A finding similar to the other provinces.

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

Table 5-7 - Nova Scotia

In Table 5-7, we see that 89,600 (23%)[51] families in Nova Scotia would qualify for legal aid. Almost 2% of those above the LICO would qualify. These are families that would be located in rural areas and the smallest centres.

Eighty-seven percent of the poor would qualify. For both low-income families with one or two or more members, 86% would qualify. In total, some 13,000 low-income families would still not qualify in Nova Scotia.

Prince Edward Island

While gross income is the primary factor in assessing financial eligibility in Prince Edward Island, there are no fixed income cut-offs. Prince Edward Island uses the income cut-offs and family size simply as guidelines or like a means test. Therefore, while we may comment on those who qualify for financial eligibility, the actual figures may be more generous.

Table 4-8 - Prince Edward Island

We observe in Table 4-8 , as in the other jurisdictions that the income guidelines are quite generous compared to the pre-tax LICO levels in the rural areas. Therefore, all those families below the LICO would meet the income portion of the financial eligibility criteria. As the urban area gets larger, a growing gap forms between the criteria guidelines and the LICO levels. In urban areas between 30,000 and 99,000 people, the gap ranges between $1,393 for a single-person family and $3,545 for a family with 7 members. To further examine the larger urban centres is immaterial given the size of Prince Edward Island. But, one observes that the gap increases as the city size increase and with the larger family sizes.

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

Table 5-8 - Prince Edward Island

In table 5-8, we observe that 5,200 (9.5%)[52] families in Prince Edward Island would be eligible for legal aid. Of the 10,200 poor households in 1998, 50.9% would be eligible for legal aid. No non-poor families would be eligible.

Due to Prince Edward Island's small sample size, the family size had to be further compressed to single-person households and 2+ households. We observe that 48% of single-person families and 56% of two-person families would qualify for legal aid. The proportion of those families who would qualify is probably under-represented in this analysis.[53]

Newfoundland and Labrador

Newfoundland and Labrador does not have strict eligibility criteria. Their eligibility guidelines are a simple means test. The net annual income qualifications are not used to disqualify an applicant. All the information from an applicant is taken into account - income, assets, liabilities, and expenses. And each decision is made on a case-by-case basis.

Their income criteria are divided between one and two adult families and their dependents - each is given a different income amount. Families headed by two adults are given a higher net income guideline than single-parent families. There are no strict assets guidelines.

Table 4-9 - Newfoundland

In Table 4-9, we observe that at no point are the guidelines above the LICO levels, not even in the rural areas. The gap between the legal aid guidelines and the LICO levels is quite wide. In rural communities, where other provincial legal aid plan guidelines for the most part rest above the LICO, here they fall below by approximately $5,000 for a single-person family. The gap grows with family size and community size. Given such a wide gap, what would this imply in terms of low-income families qualifying for legal aid strictly based on the income criteria?

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

Table 5-9 - Newfoundland

We observe in Table 5-9 that 6,300 (3.1%) families in Newfoundland and Labrador would qualify for legal aid. As one can see, the majority of families would not qualify. Among the low-income families, only 18.3% would qualify (that is 6,300 out of 34,300 poor families). When examining poor families of varying sizes, we find that 30% of poor single-person families would qualify, while over 92% of low-income families with two or more members would not qualify.

Again, we should re-iterate that Newfoundland and Labrador does not have strict guidelines, and the extrapolation of the information in Table 5-9, should be interpreted with great caution and an understanding that these figures are quite austere. At the same time, it is evident that the income aspects of the guidelines are substantially below the LICO, and this limits the proportion of those who may qualify for legal aid. Under the strictest guidelines, 28,000 poor families would not qualify.

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