In Quebec, low-income people and families can get legal aid for free or at low cost. You’re can receive legal aid if you qualify financially and if the legal services you need are covered.
You must show that you qualify financially for legal aid based on the eligibility scales. Your income and the value of your assets will be considered in this analysis.
You don’t need to prove that you qualify financially for legal aid if you’ve already been declared eligible in the last 12 months and your situation hasn’t changed since. In that case, you can simply let the legal aid office know.
The eligibility scales determine whether you qualify for free legal aid, whether you qualify for legal aid with a contribution or whether you don’t qualify at all, according to a calculation of your income.
The scales are based on family situations. For example, if you’re single and don’t have children, you qualify for legal aid if your income is $38,771 or less. If you have a spouse and two children, your combined income can’t be over $63,572.
Calculating your income
All sources of income are included in the calculation, with a few exceptions such as family allowance payments. Your total income includes employment income, benefits from government income-replacement programs (for example, EI) and retirement income.
As a general rule, the income you earned in the year before your application for legal aid is the one taken into account. However, if your income has changed, an estimate of your income for the current year will be used in the calculations.
Some expenses can be deducted from your income. For example, support payments you’re required to make, childcare costs and expenses relating to a serious physical or mental disability can be deducted from income for the purposes of the calculation.
Value of your assets
Your assets include certain property you own (such as a house) and your savings (such as money in a bank account).
The value of these assets might increase your income for the purposes of calculating your eligibility.
You can also deduct your debts from the value of your property. For example, you can subtract the balance of your mortgage and the balance you owe on your credit cards from the value of your house.
A couple’s financial situation
If you’re living with a spouse, the combined financial situation of you and your spouse could be considered to determine your eligibility (for example, if you’ve been living together for over a year, if you’re married or if you have any children).
However, only your financial situation will be considered if you and your spouse have opposing interests in the case for which you’ve requested legal aid, such as a divorce or child custody case.
You can fill out a questionnaire to find out whether you qualify for legal aid by visiting the website of the Commission des services juridiques.
Note: Legal aid does not take into account the financial situation of people under the age of 18. They’re eligible for all services covered by legal aid at no cost and regardless of their financial situation.
Similarly, people who receive social assistance (welfare) benefits are eligible for free legal aid. They must provide proof that they receive these benefits.
Legal services covered
To receive legal aid, the legal services you need must be covered. A lawyer will analyze your file to decide whether the legal services you have requested are covered.
In some cases, legal aid is provided for services that prevent the need to go to court, such as mediation.
Some legal services are never covered by legal aid. For example, legal aid won’t cover a lawsuit against someone for defamation (damage to a person’s reputation).
The Homologation Assistance Service is available to everyone regardless of income.
Also, people who have been arrested have the right to speak to a legal aid lawyer free of charge no matter what their income by calling 1-800-842-2213.
How to apply for legal aid
You must bring all documents requested to determine your eligibility. If you don’t, your request for legal aid could be refused.
If you want to be represented by a lawyer in private practice, you must mention this when making your appointment and give the name of your lawyer.