About Ontario Works

Ontario Works (“OW”) used to be called “General Welfare Assistance”. It is one of two social assistance programs in Ontario for those with little or no income. OW assistance helps people in financial need pay for living expenses like food and housing, and give them support in finding a job.

If you live in the London or Middlesex County, you should call 519-661-4520 and press 3 to make an application for OW assistance. Or you may apply online at www.ontario.ca/socialassistance

We can help

Our clinic offers information, advice and representation if you have been denied OW assistance, if your benefits have been suspended or terminated or if OW has placed an overpayment on your file. We can talk to OW to challenge decisions, help you appeal decisions and sometimes represent you at the Social Benefits Tribunal. We can also help you to get particular benefits like the Housing Stability Bank assistance and Employment benefits.

Recent changes to Ontario Works

The OW program has recently changed some of the rules to help people receiving this assistance.

Increase in asset limits

Assets are things that someone owns which can include money, such has any savings or investments someone has. As of September 1, 2017, the amount of assets you are allowed to have while receiving OW assistance went up:

  • from $2,500 to $10,000 for single individuals, and
  • from $5,000 to $15,000 for couples.

Increased limit on gifts

As of September 1, 2017, the annual income exemptions for gifts or other voluntary payments has gone up from $6,000 to $10,000. A recipient of OW assistance can receive monetary gifts up to this amount every 12 months.

Some gifts are exempt from this rule, which means they don’t count towards the total $10,000 you are allowed to receive. The exempted gifts can be used to:

  • to purchase a principal residence,
  • to purchase an exempt motor vehicle, or
  • to pay the first and last month’s rent necessary to secure accommodation for the benefit unit.

Compensation award exemptions

As of August 1, 2017, the total amount you are allowed to receive for various court and tribunal awards also increased from $25,000 to $50,000. You are allowed to receive this amount and still be eligible for OW assistance for:

  • compensation for pain and suffering,
  • expenses incurred or to be incurred as a result of an injury to or the death of a member of the benefit unit,
  • care and companionship awards under s. 61(2)(3) of the Family Law Act, and
  • compensation for non-economic loss under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act (WSIA) or Workmen’s Compensation Act (WCA).

2018 Rate Increase

OW assistance rates will be increasing by 1.5% at the end of September for most areas of assistance eligibility, including basic needs allowance, maximum shelter allowance, and board and lodgings rates, etc. You can find the rate changes here.

As of 2023–there have been no new increases since 2018.

How the Ontario Works program works

Who is eligible for Ontario Works assistance?

  • those who cannot find work
  • those who are temporarily unable to work
  • those who are earning so little that they qualify for assistance
  • those who are applying for disability benefits from the province such as the Ontario Disability Support Program (“ODSP”) and need assistance while they are waiting for these benefits to begin

The City of London administers the OW program. They will look at your total household income when deciding if you are entitled to receive these benefits.  This means that they will look at the income of any adult you are living with, even if you are single. That person’s contribution to the rent (if sharing accommodation) or income (if you are living with another adult) will be considered when calculating how much you both receive every month.

Participation Agreement

You will not be granted Ontario Works benefits until you sign a Participation Agreement.  A caseworker will schedule meetings to update your information and to make sure you are doing what you are supposed to do under the Participation Agreement.  There are also things which you must do to stay eligible for Ontario Works. Major changes to Employment requirements/program to take effect January 2024.

What if I my OW Benefits are denied or terminated or an overpayment has been placed on my file? (Appeals)

If you are denied Ontario Works or your benefits have been suspended, terminated,  or reduced because of an overpayment, you should appeal. We can assist you with the request for an Internal Review (IR) and an appeal to the Social Benefits Tribunal.

  • You have 30 days from the date of the decision to request an Internal Review
  • You have 30 days from the date of the IR decision to appeal to the Social Benefits Tribunal.

You should call us for help as soon as you receive a written decision telling you that you will not receive benefits or your benefits are being suspended/cancelled or reduced.

How are benefits calculated?

Ontario Works benefits are divided into Basic Needs Allowance and a Shelter Allowance.

Basic Needs Allowance (BNA):

This is a fixed amount, depending on the number of persons in your household. Effective from October 2018:

  • single person – $343
  • couple – $494

These amounts will not change unless a spouse and/or children were to be added to (or deducted from) your benefits in the future.  The Basic Needs Allowance would be higher if you have children.

Shelter Allowance:

Unlike the Basic Needs Allowance, this allowance varies and you may not be entitled to the total maximum shelter allowance.  This allowance is based on the amount of your rent, utilities, water and home insurance.

The maximum Shelter Allowance:

  • single person – $390
  • couple – $642

If you are single and living in subsidized accommodation and your rent (including utilities) is less than $390, you would only receive the amount that you are actually paying every month.

If your rent is more than $390, then you would only receive $390 and you would have to use money from your Basic Needs Allowance to pay your rent.

In the case of a couple, if your shelter costs are less than $642, you would only receive the amount you are actually paying each month.  If your shelter costs are more than $642, you would have to use some of your Basic Needs Allowance to pay your rent.

If you have children your maximum shelter will be higher, depending on the number of children and their ages.

Drug Card:

If you qualify for Ontario Works benefits, you will receive a drug coverage many medication costs. There is also dental coverage for any children you receive benefits for and limited dental assistance for you and your spouse (emergency treatment – extractions, etc. through discretionary assistance)

How are benefits calculated if there is other household income?

If you have other income, such as group life benefits, employment insurance, or workplace safety & insurance board benefits, Ontario Works can only “top up” your benefits by paying the difference between what you already receive and the amount you are entitled to from Ontario Works.  Employment income is treated differently.  A Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO) ( http://www.cleo.on.ca/en) pamphlet explains this issue as well as other social assistance issues.

Employment Support

Ontario Works may provide you with employment support to help you find a job or upgrade your skills.  A caseworker will discuss employment support with you at your initial interview, if you are able to work.  If you find work, you may be able to continue to receive Ontario Works. Extended Health Benefits see overview of employment services. Major changes to OW Employment Support Program to take effect January 1, 2024.

Will I receive help with medication?

When you qualify for Ontario Works, you will receive a drug card for yourself and any other member of your family who is included in your monthly cheque. This will cover many of your medication costs and some dental costs. If you find work, you may be entitled to help with your medication, etc for a period of time.

What other kinds of benefits can I get?

In certain circumstances, you may qualify for the Housing Stability Bank (HSB).  If you live in London, the Housing Stability Bank may be able to assist with utility arrears to avoid cut-offs.  The HSB can assist with rent arrears, first and sometimes last month’s rent deposit.  The assistance can be in the form of a grant or an interest free loan. HSB will not be given to anyone setting up home outside London. See Overview of Employment Services

Low Income Energy Assistance Program 

This program provides monthly rebates on hydro bills if qualifying for program.

News: Ontario Helping Families and Small Businesses Keep Electricity Costs Down

News: Ontario Increasing Income Eligibility Thresholds for Ontario Electricity Support Program

Discretionary Assistance

OW/ODSP/Low income individuals may be eligible to receive assistance for certain items that include:

  • prescription eyeglasses
  • special necessities (like wheelchairs, hearing aids, prosthetics etc.)
  • utility assistance up to $500
  • essential furniture and appliances (refrigerator, stove)
  • funerals and burials

Click for more information

You can contact discretionary assistance at 519-661-5910 or online at [email protected] to apply.  If you are denied discretionary assistance you can request an Internal Review.

Please contact the HSB directly at: (519) 964-3663  x300 or by emailing [email protected]

Mobile plan for low-income Canadians

News: Rogers launches 5G mobile plan for low-income Canadians 

Click here for Eligibility and Application

Last updated September 19, 2023