Calling 211 is one of the best ways you can learn about community and social service programs and financial help that can help improve your quality of life. In fact, the 211 helpline in Ontario answered nearly 300,000 calls last year, with a quarter of those calls related to basic needs like housing, food, financial assistance and help with utility bills. Many calls were from seniors and caregivers who wanted to know what type of practical help, like home support or income assistance was available and how to access it.
Pensions and Other Benefits
If you’re a senior, accessing some of that income usually means dealing with a government office or sometimes filling in forms to apply for programs. If you are having trouble reaching the right person at an organization 211’s Community Navigators are happy to help you navigate a confusing phone system. If you need help filling in forms, there may be a local community agency that can help with forms or in person support to navigate to the right services.
Even if you have no income, you still need to file a personal tax return each year to ensure you receive all the tax credits and benefits you may be eligible for. Keep in mind that you must apply annually for some benefits—not all of them have automatic enrollment or renewal.
The Old Age Security (OAS) program, which provides most Canadians over 65 with a modest pension, is at the top of the list of financial support for seniors. In addition, the federal government offers the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), which can substantially improve the quality of life for low-income seniors. Partners of GIS recipients who are between 60 and 64 can apply for the GIS-Allowance, while widows may be eligible for the GIS Allowance for the Survivor.
Unlike OAS and the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), the GIS is totally tax-free, but you must apply for it when you file your income tax as you will not be automatically enrolled. Take note – if you choose to defer your OAS pension, you will not be eligible for the GIS for the period you are delaying your OAS nor will your spouse or common-law partner be eligible to receive the Allowance.
GIS recipients who live in Ontario may be entitled to the Guaranteed Annual Income System (GAINS), a non-taxable top-up. If you receive a full or partial federal OAS pension, plus the federal GIS, you do not have to apply for GAINS. Your benefits will be determined based on information that the Ontario Ministry of Finance receives from Employment and Social Development Canada and information provided on your annual personal income tax and benefit return.
To learn more about income support programs, call 211 or explore your eligibility with the Government of Canada’s Old Age Security Program Toolkit, available in interactive or printable formats.
Canada Pension Plan (CPP)
Another possible form of financial support for those who have worked outside the home is the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) retirement pension. You need to be at least 65 to get the full pension, although you can take a reduced CPP retirement pension when you turn 60. You can also receive this pension as late as age 70 with a permanent increase. If you continue to work while receiving your CPP retirement pension, and are under age 70, you can continue to contribute to the CPP, which will go toward post-retirement benefits.
CPP also provides a survivor’s pension to partners of deceased contributors. As well, those who have lived or worked in another country may be entitled to benefits from abroad. CPP contributors who are under 65 but cannot work because of a disability, may be eligible for the CPP Disability Benefits Program
Note: Last year, the Canada Pension Plan was enhanced for those Canadians who work and make contributions to the CPP. The enhancement will increase CPP disability and survivor’s pensions as well as the retirement pension.
If you are low income and still working, TVO hosted a helpful session on The Reality of Retiring on a Low Income which can provide some information that is good to know.
Veterans Canada also provides financial support to veterans and their families, including income support. The Get Smarter About Money website by the Ontario Securities Commission has created a Military Service Hub for financial information and resources for the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces and their families.
In addition to income support programs there are also several tax credits you need to be aware of. For instance, the Disability Tax Credit is a non-refundable federal tax credit that can help reduce the amount of income tax a person with a disability or a supportive family member has to pay.
Ontario also offers GIS recipients a partial deferral of provincial land tax and education tax through its Provincial Land Tax Deferral Program for Low Income Seniors or Those With a Disability. Finally, the Federal Excise Gasoline Refund Program refunds a portion of the federal excise tax on gasoline bought for use by people with a mobility impairment who cannot use public transportation.
Note: Make sure you understand which medical expenses can be claimed on your taxes. Visit the following page for more information.
There are community agencies that run free tax clinics to help you ile your taxes from February to April for residents with low to moderate incomes. Calling 211 is the easiest way to find these clinics. The Steps to Justice website has created legal information in easy to understand language which is easy to navigate. Pro Bono Ontario’s Free Legal Advice Hotline provides free legal advice for thirty minutes on civic legal issues. Community Legal Clinics may be able to help with some issues and forms related to Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement.
Ontario’s municipalities offer a variety of programs to help with affordable housing and eviction prevention programs. It might also be worth exploring other programs your municipality might have such as property tax relief programs for those with low-incomes, water rebates/credits and basement flood prevention programs. In addition, if your household income is less than $50,000, you might be eligible to receive a rebate of up to $500 a year through the Ontario Senior Homeowners’ Property Tax Grant. The March of Dimes Canada also operates a Home and Vehicle Modification Program that provides funding for basic home and/or vehicle modifications for Ontario residents.
The Long-Term Care Home Rate Reduction Program helps low-income residents pay for basic accommodation in a long-term care home.
Energy/Utility Bill Financial Help
If you need help to pay your gas or electricity bill, the Ontario Energy Board’s Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP) and the Ontario Electricity Support Program may be able to help out. In a few communities, such as Bruce Grey, community programs offer low-income families and individuals financial assistance to pay for delivery of wood, oil or propane. If the cost of energy-saving upgrades that lower your energy use in your home is out of reach, you might be able to access help from Ontario’s Affordability Fund or the Home Assistance Program for these services.
Electricity customers in Ontario no longer need to worry about being disconnected during the winter. The Ontario Energy Board has permanently banned utility companies in the province from disconnecting residential customers for non-payment between Nov. 15 and April 30 of the following year.
For many Canadians, health care becomes increasingly important as they age. In Ontario, residents with a valid Ontario health card can receive health care services paid for by OHIP. There are also some other health care programs you should know about. For instance, Telehealth Ontario is a free, confidential phone service you can call (1-866-797-0000) to get health advice or information. A Registered Nurse will take your call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Quitting smoking help can also be found through the Telehealth Ontario phone service now too.
Also keep in mind that once you turn 65 most of the cost for approved drug prescriptions will be covered under the Ontario Drug Benefit (ODB) Program. If you want to know if your prescription is covered you can search here. Ontario also offers several free vaccines for those 65 years of age and older. Ask your family doctor for more information.
If you have a physical disability you can get help paying for equipment and supplies under the Assistive Devices Program (ADP). It usually pays up to 75 per cent of the approved price for equipment or supplies ranging from home oxygen to wheelchairs to hearing aids. Sometime a health charity may offer financial or other support for equipment or expenses for related health conditions.
Veterans have access to a wide array of health care benefits, including prescription drugs, dental care and prosthetic devices. The War Veterans Allowance, a tax-free monthly benefit for low-income veterans and their dependents or their survivors, also covers medically related travel costs.
Funeral and burial assistance may be available for social assistance recipients and individuals with a low income from some municipalities. Learn more about your consumer rights when planning for a cremation, funeral or burial.
If getting to and from medical appointments is challenging, there are often different programs that can help provide transportation to medical appointments. Calling 211 is the easiest way to learn more about programs in your area.
The Ontario government is providing the Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program, which provides low-income seniors with dental services like exams, cleanings and restorative services to repair broken teeth and cavities.
If you, or someone you care about, needs help living independently or is considering long-term care options, contact your Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) for help. There is no charge for any professional, personal support or homemaking service provided through a LHIN if you meet eligibility criteria. If you are not eligible for a service, your LHIN can refer you to a fee-for-service community support service. Most Community Support Services are provided for a service fee, although sometimes the government will fund some services and some agencies provide a sliding scale depending on the individual’s circumstances. Your LHIN can provide more information on a service’s fees. Some community agencies can provide free home assessments for mobility aides and devices that can support day to day activities. The Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation provides a guide to help you think through the possible adaptions for your home. To learn more about how community service organization can support your independence to help you stay in your own home, read our blog post here.
In an emergency situation, you do not have to pay land ambulance fees if your trip is deemed medically necessary and you are receiving social assistance, certain home care services or are living in a long-term care home. However, if your ambulance trip is deemed not medically essential or you do not have a valid Ontario health card, you will be billed a co-payment charge.
Northern Health Travel Grants
Northern Health Travel Grants are funded by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC). The grants help pay some of the transportation costs for northern Ontario residents who must travel at least 100km for medical specialist or hospital care that is not locally available. Many Ontarians now have an option to attend specialist consultations via telemedicine instead of the traditional face-to-face method. However, if a patient travels greater than 100 km from their home to attend a telemedicine enabled organization for a consultation with a ‘virtual specialist’, they are eligible for a Northern Travel Grant.
Here’s a few other health programs you may not be aware of:
- Regional Geriatric Programs (RGPs)across Ontario provide specialized geriatric services to help treat illness, disability and mental health in older adults who have multiple and complex needs. In most cases, seniors with mental illness or their families can directly access these programs, or they can be referred through a family doctor.
- Cancer Care Ontario offers a free colon cancer screening program to reduce deaths from colorectal cancer. To get you’re a free screening kit, talk with your family doctor or nurse practitioner or call Telehealth Ontario.
- The Hearing Care Counselling Program by the Canadian Hearing Society provides people 55 years and older information on communication devices in the comfort of their own home.
- If you have questions about your medications, you can schedule a 20 to 30-minute one-on-one discussion with your pharmacist each year to make sure you’re using your medications safely.
As you age you may lose mobility, which can make it more difficult to shop for food or cook. If this is the case, programs like Meals on Wheels can provide hot meals delivered to a senior’s home. Volunteers will not only deliver nutritious and affordable meals but they will stay for a little chat and check on your health and safety. If you can get around a little more easily, you can access free or low-cost meal programs at community agencies such as senior centres. You may also be eligible for food bank services, food vouchers and emergency food hampers. Some municipalities also operate Good Food Box programs, which deliver boxes of affordable, fresh produce to pick up locations on a regular basis. Call 211 to find out what food or meal programs are available near you.
Social, Recreation and Education Programs
Many community and seniors centres offer dozens of social and recreation programs from exercise classes to art and crafts to organized outings. Another way to keep active and socially connected is through volunteering. Local Parks and Recreation Departments also offer a variety of low-cost recreation options, everything from line dancing to Indian cooking to making jewellery. Check to see if your local department offers discounts to seniors.
Public libraries aren’t just about books — they’re also provide free Internet and computer access, training, workshops and special events for the community on a range of topics and all ages.
Help with Pet Costs
If you own a cat or dog, you are probably aware that they can promote well-being. Nevertheless, paying their expenses can be a source of stress if finances are tight. If you’re struggling to pay vet bills and have a low income or are on social assistance or live in certain supportive housing for seniors, the Farley Foundation may be able to help with the cost for critical procedures or treatment. On top of this, some municipalities offer low-cost spay and neuter clinics and other organizations may operate pet food banks.
Programs and services available vary by community and can change from season to season. Call 211 to get up-to-date information 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.