Legal Aid Ontario: A Quick 101 Guide

Legal Aid Ontario provides cost-effective and high-quality legal services to low-income people residing in Ontario. So, for a detailed guide, check out this post.

It is a publicly funded and publicly accountable independent non-profit organization. Legal Aid Ontario was established in 1998 through The Legal Aid Services Act.

Legal Aid Ontario is governed and managed by its board of directors. Based on its financial resources, it establishes policies and priorities to provide legal aid services. The Lieutenant Governor appoints the board of directors in Council on the recommendation of the Attorney General.

Legal Aid Ontario
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Legal aid Ontario is backed by the staff lawyers, LAO-funded community legal clinics, and private bar members working on legal aid certificates providing legal services across the province.

Public legal information and education are available worldwide at legal information centers and courthouses. For online information, you can visit Legal Aid Ontario.

How Does Legal Aid Work in Ontario?


Services provided by LAO:

  • Toll-free telephone service offering information, references, and advice at 1-800-668-8258
  • Duty Counsel provides services to people who cannot afford a lawyer in criminal legal issues, family legal issues, and youth courts.
  • Community and Specialty Legal Clinics, funded by LAO, provide legal services to low-income individuals with basic needs such as health care, education, and housing.
  • offers legal information about criminal, family, and refugee law and a few court-related mental health issues online for free.
  • Family Law Service Centres (FLSC) provides services across the province in family matters such as separated individuals seeking child support, trying to get access or custody of their children, and experiencing domestic violence.
  • Refugee and immigration services.
  • Certificate Program to those who need lawyer representation in severe and complicated cases.
  • Summary legal advice to the low-income individuals handling their legal problems independently.

Please Note

Legal aid is only available to people with some legal problems. In some cases, you might not get legal help. Depending on your situation, LAO might cover all or some of your legal costs.

You should check if you are eligible to receive legal aid or not.

Eligibility criteria

To get legal aid in Ontario, you will have to show that you have little money once you pay for your basic needs, such as food and housing. Sometimes you might qualify to get legal aid even if you have a house and some money with you in the bank.

LAO has helped individuals in their legal matters such as:

  • Separated parents looking for child support from their ex-partners
  • Individuals experiencing child abuse
  • Parents seeking custody, support, or access to their children
  • Individuals who are accused of a criminal offense
  • Individuals with mental health or addiction issues
  • Refugees who are seeking Canadian immigration status
  • Immigrants facing deportation
  • People who are identified as First Nation, Métis, or Inuit

From April 1, 2020, Legal Aid Ontario has raised its eligibility threshold by 6% for its certificate program and clinic law services.

Certificate Program

A legal certificate will be given to you by legal aid Ontario that you have to give to the private lawyer appointed by LAO to represent you work a certain number of hours. Legal aid Ontario will pay for the lawyer to work you, and you don’t have to pay the lawyer.

To be eligible, you must have a legal issue covered by legal aid Ontario, and your annual income and your family dependents should meet the requirements.

Number of family members                   Annual gross family income                                   For domestic abuse cases

1                                                                        $18,795                                                                   $22,720

2                                                                        $32,131                                                                   $ 32,131

3                                                                        $39,352                                                                   $39,352

4                                                                        $45,289                                                                   $45,440

5+                                                                      $50,803                                                                    $50,803

Single boarder                                                  $12,330

Duty counsel services

The duty counsel program provides legal assistance to low-income people living in Ontario under the legal cases of criminal law, family law, and child support.

The services of Duty Counsel include:

  • prepare and review court documents
  • advise about the legal rights and obligations
  • give information on the court process
  • provide help with negotiation, adjournments, and sentencing in the courtroom
  • offer referrals to specific issues

To be eligible to get Duty Counsel, your annual gross family income should be lower than:

Number of family members                                               Annual gross family income

1                                                                                                      $22,720

2                                                                                                      $32,131

3                                                                                                      $39,352

4                                                                                                      $45,440

5+                                                                                                    $50,803

Legal Aid Ontario provides funding to 72 independent legal clinics and seven university-based student clinics across Ontario. Legal clinics offer legal help for issues related to housing, income, human rights, the dispute between tenants and landlords, Canada pension plans, wrongful dismissal, and any other employment issues, etc.

Legal clinics employ paralegals, lawyers, legal workers, volunteer law students.

The annual gross income threshold:

Number of family members                                      Annual gross income

1                                                                                       $22,720

2                                                                                       $27,516

3                                                                                       $32,178

4                                                                                       $34,809

5                                                                                       $38,418

6                                                                                        $41,199

Contribution agreement

In some cases, you might have some assets and property, but still, you qualify for a certificate with a contribution agreement. You might have to give some amount for the total amount of your legal fees. You might be allowed to pay the fees in monthly installments based on your income.

The contribution agreement will estimate how much you will pay to legal aid Ontario (LAO).

How to check if you are eligible for a contribution agreement

To know if you are eligible for LAO’s contribution agreement, you will be required to take a financial test. You will have to show records of your assets, property, and bank balance, depending upon which you will decide how much you will pay.

You could be asked to pay in EMI or a lump sum. If you are satisfied with the legal fees decided and pass the test, you will be given a certificate, which will help you get a lawyer.

Certificate eligibility thresholds

If your income is lower than column 1 then you will qualify if your income is higher then check the income threshold in column 2

Number of family member)                       Column 1                                          Column 2

1                                                                   $12,863                                            $14,888

2                                                                   $22,253                                            $26,798

3                                                                   $25,367                                            $31,228

4                                                                   $28,664                                            $35,873

5                                                                   $31,817                                            $40,447

Single boarder                                             $8,456                                               $9,766

There are various ways to apply for legal aid in Ontario.


You can contact legal aid Ontario at 416-979-1446, toll-free at 1-800-668-8258, or through Bell Relay service at 1‑800‑855‑0511. Monday is one of the busiest days, so feel free to contact the office from Tuesday to Friday, between 8 am and 5 pm.


Apply online by visiting here.

This facility is only for those:

  • who live in the shelter
  • do not own any property
  • have no source of income
  • are new to Canada
  • are incarcerated
  • receive any payments by Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program


  • When you are in jail or detention center, you ask a legal aid worker.
  • Ask a human rights advisor and a patient advocate when you are in hospital.
  • Ask your current lawyer if you are out of custody and want to apply for legal aid in any criminal matter.

What do you need to apply?

When you decide to apply for legal aid, then make sure that you keep all your paperwork related to your case handy. When you use via phone, you will be directed to another LAO service by the representative, and it could be to a legal clinic or a duty counsel.

When you apply for a certificate program, you will be needed to provide information regarding your finances, such as your sources of income, annual gross income, and any assets and property.

  • Any ID like Driver’s license, health card, and permanent resident card.
  • If you have a home, then the papers of your home deed.
  • All the documents relating to your case could be a copy of police summons, separation agreements, court orders, any charges, a copy of the Crown screening for criminal charges, or any other documents.
  • If you are earning, a proof will be needed, such as recent pay stubs, T4 slips, social assistance cheques, or employment insurance statements.
  • Your current bank statements.
  • Bills of your monthly expenses such as credit card statements, insurance bills, rent receipts, water and gas payments, any monthly installment receipts, and mortgage payments.

If applying for legal aid in an office, you will be given a legal aid application to fill out. Staff at the office will help you with your application. If you need urgent aid, then let them know to help you out on a priority basis.

When applying over a phone call

  • You will be asked to mail your three or four payslips if you are earning.
  • If you are self-employed, you will be asked to mail your latest financial records.
  • If you receive any assistance from Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program, your social assistance status will be verified by the representative over the phone.

You have applied now what?

LAO will take up to 4 weeks to respond to your application. If your application is approved, then will either:

  • receive a Legal Aid Certificate or,
  • you will receive a certificate under the condition of the Contribution Agreement.

As you get your certificate, you can take it to any lawyer who accepts certificates to provide legal help.

Visit Find a Lawyer to find lawyers who provide legal aid near you. Whether you are charged under Youth Criminal Justice Act or are a victim of domestic violence, this site will help you find the right lawyer to represent your case.

To find any LAO office near you, you can visit Legal Aid Ontario.

Visit Icy Canada for such enlightening pieces.

Do share your thoughts in the comments section.

Last Updated on by Priyanshi Sharma


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