Budget 2016 update

Updated: Friday, December 16, 2016

LAO is taking a number of steps to balance its budget. These steps will ensure that our expenditures are aligned with our services and that we continue to provide our clients with the highest quality support we can offer.

Our situation

In 2014, the Province of Ontario recognized something needed to be done about the growing access to justice crisis and committed to increasing LAOs financial eligibility to match Statistics Canadas Low Income Measure over a ten year period. To date LAO has been provided with $86.7M in additional funding and as a result 400,000 more Ontarians are eligible for legal aid services—and this number will continue to grow to 1 million as a result of the provinces investment.

The new funding created an opportunity for LAO to provide new types of services not previously available to clients. LAO was able to issue 53,315 more legal aid certificates, which includes additional family law certificates (primarily where domestic violence is concerned), certificates for criminal law and additional certificates for clients who self-identified as First Nation, Mtis or Inuit.

New funding allowed LAO to devote more than $20M in total since 2014 to help low-income Ontarians with poverty law issues within their communities by flowing money into the community legal clinic system. Additionally, we provided new investments for SLASS, duty counsel, our call centre and Summary Legal Advice.

The mix of expanding financial eligibility and new types of services, however, resulted in unprecedented demand and despite our best efforts, our forecasts were well below actual demand. The end result was that we provided more services for clients than we had available funding for. We now need to take steps to bring client services in line with our funding.

In addition to this increase in demand for services related to changes in legal and financial eligibility, LAO has also experienced a 44% increase in demand for refugee services this year with this number likely to increase over the next year. LAO will incur a deficit of $26M for this year versus an annual budget of $440M. Without immediate action, this number will continue to increase next year as a result of a number of factors.

In order to address these financial pressures, LAO will, effective immediately, scale back the implementation of new expanded criminal certificate services until they align with available funding. This means that certificates for secondary consequences and first time accused will not be available. LAO will return to baseline services for criminal law, continuing to offer coverage for criminal cases where the accused faces a substantial likelihood of incarceration.

There are a couple of limited exceptions to this change to criminal law certificate coverage. On a case by case basis, LAO will retain the discretion to issue criminal law certificates to people from vulnerable client groups where the allegations and facts of the case merit a trial, or to protect the rights and safety of the most vulnerable accused who are fleeing an abusive relationship.

Clients affected by these service changes will be assisted by duty counsel. Currently, LAO is revising its own practices to ensure that every dollar possible goes to client services.

Within LAO, we will:

  • freeze salaries at 2016/17 levels to minimize impact on staffing
  • lower administrative costs to 10 per cent across the board, in line with administrative costs in the provincial government.
  • not fill vacancies where possible while ensuring there is minimal impact on client service
  • reduce the number of future articling positions
  • review our duty counsel program, including more effective coordination of over-the-phone summary legal advice services with districts while ensuring we continue to cover baseline services

Clinics

  • recover unspent funds from clinics
  • provide no funding for increased compensation except for pay equity
  • maintain the current level ($10M) of clinic financial eligibility funding in 2017/18 at 2016/17 levels
  • reduce clinic operation budgets by $1.0 million (1.2% of overall funding).

Refugees

  • work with the federal government on addressing next years funding pressures
  • examine ways to better align our services with available funding.

Next steps

LAOs first priority is its clients, but we must address our financial pressures today so we do not compromise our ability to help low-income Ontarians tomorrow.