Responses to recent media enquiries
Response to questions about legal aid accessibility
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Legal Aid Ontario provided information to Radio Canada in response to an enquiry received regarding legal aid accessibility.
What made LAO change its mind about modifying its rules?
What systemic changes would LAO like to make? Why?
Legal Aid Ontario has a mandate to provide high-quality, cost-effective services to low-income Ontarians. In keeping with this mandate, Legal Aid Ontario has been making changes to its service delivery model to improve legal aid services and expand access for low-income Ontarians. In the past few years some of these improvements have included the following:
Toll free services (1-800-668-8258)
LAO launched its call centre service nearly three years ago to provide clients with simpler, faster and easier access to legal aid services. Eligible low-income Ontarians have access to more services, such as legal advice, and referrals to other social agencies, than were previously available through the local offices. Callers receive assistance in less than a minute on average, without having to leave home or worry about taking time off work. LAO’s “call us toll-fee” section on its website provides information and wait-times in real-time to manage client expectations. Earlier this year, LAO added a recorded information feature so individuals can continue to get the assistance they need after business hours. In 2010 over 200,000 Ontarians across the province contacted the call centre for assistance.
The service is available over 200 languages through simultaneous interpreting services, which helps improve accessibility for non-native English and French speakers. The toll-free service also helps eliminates the challenges posed by transportation issues, a major problem in rural areas.
Legal Aid Ontario is continuing to look a ways to improve its call centre services. Recently the call centre expanded its lawyer team so clients could connect with lawyers who are from the local areas and are familiar with local practices.
Legal aid offices in the courthouse
Legal Aid Ontario has increased its courthouse locations to provide low-income Ontarians with faster and more convenient service. The courthouse offices provide clients with application services, general information, status checks, and referrals. Clients are able to receive faster service, often in the same courthouse in which they are scheduled to appear. Sixty-one per cent of clients are seen on or before their first court appearance and almost 90 per cent of clients receive same-day decisions on their certificate applications. Courthouse offices also allow LAO to better integrate with local services and resources.
More than 50,000 clients have been served at courthouse sites across Ontario since 2008. There are currently 56 courthouse locations across the province.
Family Law Service centres
Legal Aid Ontario has established six family law service centres to help address an increasing need for family law services province-wide. Currently there are family law service centres in Newmarket, Brampton, North York, downtown Toronto, Sarnia and Chatham.
Simplified financial eligibility test
Legal Aid Ontario introduced a new version of its financial eligibility test province-wide earlier this year as a faster, simpler way to determine if a client is financially eligible for a legal aid certificate. Unlike the previous needs-based test, which was often time-consuming and required clients to provide documentation, the simplified test is based on income and uses the size of the applicant’s family unit to determine eligibility, from a single individual up to families of five or more.
The implementation of the new test has meant that staff spend less time on assessing low-income Ontarians who are clearly eligible and more time on providing direct service. Since launching the new version of the financial test in February 2011, Legal Aid Ontario has been able to help more than 42,000 Ontarians move forward with their legal matters more quickly.
Legal Aid Ontario’s website
LAO has made improvements to its website, as part of the strategy to increase client access points for Ontarians, The website introduced changes to make it more client focused and provide Ontarians information about legal aid services and other resources and information. In the past year LAO has revised and expanded its Types of help and Resources sections so clients can find the info they need, faster. Since January 2011, LAO has had 491,968 visitors to the client section of the website.
Family Law Information Program
Earlier this year, LAO launched its Family Law Information Program to help Ontarians deal with some of the problems that arise when a relationship breaks down.
The program, which is free and available on LAO’s website, describes the practical and legal issues that former spouses might face. It uses both audio and text, in easy-to-understand language, to guide Ontarians through legal definitions, information on legal representation, dispute resolution, and the family court process. Given the often emotionally charged nature of family law disputes, the program also includes sections on the effects of relationship breakdowns, and information on parenting after separation. More than 6,000 users have accessed the program since its launch in March 2011.
Did the recent boycott by the criminal lawyers have anything to do with this decision to make these changes?
Why has LAO decided to make these changes now just as the McGinty government has become a minority government?
Legal Aid Ontario is continually looking at ways to improve services in line with our mandate and we are now analyzing the issue of financial eligibility.
What is the current amount required by person and by family to be eligible for legal aid in Ontario?
To be eligible for Legal Aid Ontario’s services, clients must qualify financially and have a legal matter that Legal Aid Ontario covers. Legal Aid Ontario has two sets of financial eligibility guidelines: one for services such as summary legal advice and duty counsel assistance and the other for Legal Aid Ontario’s certificate program, which allows eligible low-income Ontarians to have full representation by a lawyer. The financial guidelines for each are as follows:
Financial eligibility guideline for legal aid services such as duty counsel
Financial eligibility criteria for certificate services
For clients who do not meet Legal Aid Ontario’s legal or financial guidelines, Legal Aid Ontario can provide referrals to other services such as a community legal clinic or local community agencies.
How much does LAO receive from the provincial government annually?
Legal Aid Ontario received the following amounts from the provincial and federal governments in the last two years:
Amount in millions