You have little or no income or savings, but you still need to eat and put a roof over your head. You might be eligible for social assistance (welfare).
Your current financial situation, financial resources available through other programs, and whether you have a spouse can all affect your eligibility. Here is what you need to know about social assistance before you apply.
There Are Different Social Assistance Programs
There are four main programs that allow you to benefit from social assistance:
- the Social Assistance Program,
- the Social Solidarity Program,
- the Aim For Employment Program,
- the Basic Income Program.
The conditions to be eligible for social assistance depend on each program. Different factors may have an impact on your eligibility. This article gives an overview of these factors. When used on its own, the term “social assistance” refers to the four programs mentioned above. However, the term “Social Assistance Program” only refers to that specific program.
Your Income and Savings Must Be Below a Certain Limit
When you apply for social assistance, you must have very little income or savings.
On the application form, you must declare all income that you currently receive. You must also declare all savings (“liquid assets”) and property you have.
The cut-off amount for eligibility is different depending on your situation. For example, under the Social Assistance Program, a single person without children cannot have more than $887 of savings at the time of application. A couple with two children usually cannot have more than $1807.
A certain amount of your property does not count, such as part of the value of a house.
Once you start receiving social assistance, you can have slightly more in savings and property.
If your savings and property are more than the allowed amounts, your social assistance benefits will be reduced or you could become ineligible to receive benefits. If you receive more benefits than you should, you must pay the money back.
Social Assistance Is a Last Resort
Social assistance programs are a “last resort” solution. Their purpose is to provide people with basic financial support and to encourage them to participate actively in society and enter the workforce when possible.
Therefore, to receive social assistance, you must also take advantage of any other form of financial aid to which you are entitled, such as
- employment insurance,
- child support payments from your child’s other parent,
- compensation from the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST or workplace health and safety board),
- compensation from the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ or automobile insurance board), or
- any other source or government program.
Having a Spouse Can Affect Your Eligibility or Your Benefits
Having a spouse could have an impact on your eligibility for social assistance or the amount of benefits you may be granted.
It is therefore important to be honest about your living situation. If you have a spouse, you must declare this situation, and your spouse must complete the application form with you.
For social assistance, spouses are:
- couples who are married or in a civil union and who live together
- two people of the same or opposite sex who live together and who have a child together (even if they are not married or have not been living together for very long)
- common-law partners of the same or opposite sex who live together now and who have at any one time lived together for at least one year (even if one of them temporarily lived somewhere else)
You might think that your boyfriend or your girlfriend is not your spouse, but a welfare inspector can investigate your living situation and declare that person your spouse. For example, if your boyfriend or your girlfriend stays overnight at your place a couple nights a week, an inspector might say that person is your spouse even if your boyfriend or girlfriend doesn’t support you financially. You can have a roommate, but an inspector might believe you are spouses. Either case could lead to your benefits being cancelled. If you disagree, you can contest the decision.
Your Age and Your Residency Status Affect Your Eligibility
There are additional eligibility criteria for social assistance, such as your age and your residency status, among other conditions.
You must live in Québec and be at least 18 years old or an emancipated minor.
In general, you must also be either a Canadian citizen, an Indigenous person, a permanent resident, a refugee, or a refugee claimant.
Permanent residents who are still under a sponsorship cannot usually receive social assistance, but they may be eligible in some situations, such as domestic violence. See our guide Immigration Status and Social Services.
Some people, such as full-time students, are not eligible for social assistance in general.
Your Ability to Work Determines Your Program
Your ability to work determines which of the four welfare programs you could be eligible for. It also affects the amount of benefits you may be granted.
You can work
- You could be eligible for the Social Assistance Program. This program encourages people whose ability to work is not severely limited to enter the workforce.
- Or, if you are applying for welfare for the first time, you could be eligible for the Aim for Employment Program. This program offers individualized support and training to enter the workforce for 12 to 24 months.
You can’t work
- You could be eligible for the Social Solidarity Program if your ability to work is severely limited. To be eligible for this program, you must generally provide a medical report that shows you are unable to work for at least a year.
- You could be eligible for the Basic Income Program, particularly if
- Your ability to work has been severely limited for at least 66 months over the last 72 months, and
- You already receive benefits under the Social Solidarity Program.
Your Situation Determines the Amount of Benefits Granted
The amount of your monthly benefits depends on whether you can work and whether you are single or have a spouse. This amount increases slightly each year.
The amount of money you receive is usually not affected by how many children you have, except under the Basic Income Program. Social assistance is separate from the Quebec Family Allowance and Canada Child Benefit.
You can visit the Quebec government’s website to find out more about the amount of benefits you may be eligible to receive depending on your situation and on the program.
How to Apply
Application forms are available on the Government of Quebec’s website.
Before you apply, you may want to use the SimulAide tool provided by Emploi Quebec (Quebec’s department of labour). This tool allows you to assess whether you might be eligible for social assistance.
If your application is rejected, you can contest the decision. See our article Contesting a Decision Regarding Social Assistance (Welfare).
Be Careful About Making False or Incomplete Declarations
False declarations can have serious consequences. If you don’t tell the truth or if you withhold information on your application form because you want to appear eligible or receive higher benefits, you could have to pay back any overpayment at a minimum rate of $112 a month. You would also have to pay a $100 fine for making a false declaration.
If you disagree with a decision cancelling or reducing your benefits, you can contest the decision. See our article Contesting a Decision Regarding Social Assistance (Welfare).