211 Ontario Help Seniors Find Community Supports and Financial Assistance

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.

The 211 helpline in Ontario answered more than 325,000 calls last year. One third of those calls were for basic needs like housing, food, financial assistance and help with utility bills. Many calls were from seniors and caregivers wanting to discover what practical help like home support was available, how to access it, and if financial help exists for life’s challenges.

Calling 2-1-1 is one of the best ways to learn about community and social service programs and financial help that can help seniors improve their quality of life. Programs and benefits can change from year to year or vary by community, please call 2-1-1 for up-to-date information.

Pensions and Other Benefits

Filing a personal tax return each year is important, even if you have no income, to ensure you receive all the tax credits and benefits you may be eligible for and often to renew your benefits. Not all benefits have automatic enrolment or renewal. Click here for information about types of income may receive when you retire or turn 65 years old.

The Canada Revenue Agency administers tax laws for the Government of Canada and Ontario and administers various social and economic benefit and incentive programs.

No matter your age, having a stable income is paramount to feeling secure. If you’re a senior, accessing at least part of that income means dealing with a government office, which can be frustrating. If you have trouble reaching an agency or communicating with them, call 211. We are happy to help callers navigate to the agency or department upon request.  If you need help filling out application forms, community agencies can also provide this help. 211 can tell you which agencies can help with that.

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 Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) gives extra income to low-income seniors receiving OAS. Partners of GIS recipients can apply for the GIS-Allowance (widows can apply for the Allowance for the Survivor) if they are aged 60 to 64.  Low income seniors should 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 pension. In addition, your spouse or common-law partner will not be eligible to receive the Allowance during that period. You must apply for the GIS when your income tax is filed. You will not be automatically enrolled.

In addition, the Guaranteed Annual Income System (GAINS) is a top-up for low-income Ontario residents age 65 or older who receive GIS. To learn more you can call 211 or explore your eligibility with the Old Age Security Program Toolkit from the Government of Canada. They have an interactive version and a printable version. The increased income can mean a substantial improvement in quality of life for a low-income senior.

If you currently 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 the Ontario Ministry of Finance receives from Employment and Social Development Canada and information provided on your annual personal income tax and benefit return.

Another possible form of financial support if you have worked outside the home is the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) retirement pension. Starting in 2019, the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) will be gradually enhanced. This will only affect you if, as of 2019, you work and make contributions to the CPP. The enhancement will increase CPP retirement, disability and survivor’s pensions you may receive. If you are a CPP contributor under the age of 65 and cannot work because of a disability, you may be eligible for the CPP Disability Benefits Program.

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. CPP also provides survivor’s pension to partners of deceased contributors.

If you have lived or worked in another country, you may be eligible for benefits from abroad.

Veterans Canada website provides a wide variety of information on the types of support available to them and their families.  There is a section on financial support for veterans.

Disability Tax Credit

The Disability Tax Credit is a non-refundable tax credit that helps a person with a disability or their support family member reduce the amount of income tax they may have to pay. New this year, Nurse Practitioners can also fill out and sign the tax credit certification.

Ontario also offers the Provincial Land Tax Deferral Program for Low Income or Those With Disability, a partial deferral of provincial land tax and education tax for GIS recipients. 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.

It is also important to understand medical expenses which can be claimed on your taxes. Visit the following page for more information.

The Ontario Renovates Program offers limited funding to renters, low-income seniors (and persons with disabilities) who own their home and need home repairs and accessibility modifications. This program is administered by local municipalities, such as the City of Ottawa.

The Home and Vehicle Modification program by March of Dimes Canada provides funding for basic home and/or vehicle modifications and is only available in Ontario.

Legal Help

Community legal clinics, which offer services to all low-income seniors, can help if you are having difficulty applying for a tax refund or receiving your pension or you need help preparing a will or a power of attorney form. The Alzheimer Society Ontario also partnered with the Ontario Bar Association to create a free Estate Planner and Guide. To find out about other legal options for low-income Ontarians, check out the Community Legal Education Ontario website, Steps to Justice website, the Pro Bono Ontario Free Legal Advice Hotline.

Health Care

As a resident of Ontario, you must have a valid Ontario health card to show that you are entitled to health care services paid for by OHIP.

Telehealth Ontario is a free, confidential phone service you can call to get health advice or information. A Registered Nurse will take your call 24 hours a day, seven days a week: Toll-free: 1-866-797-0000.

When it comes to health, most of the cost for approved drug prescriptions is covered under the Ontario Drug Benefit (ODB) program if you are 65 or older. Seniors enrolled in the Seniors Co-Payment Program pay no annual deductible and a co-payment of up to $2 for each prescription.

Ontario also offers several free vaccines for those 65 years of age and older. Ask your family doctor for more information.

A wide array of health care benefits, including prescription drugs, dental care and prosthetic devices, are also provided to war veterans. The War Veterans Allowance also covers medically related travel costs.

If you have a long-term physical disability you can apply to the Assistive Devices Program (ADP) for financial support (usually 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.

There is also no specific provincial dental program for seniors, although some community health clinics offer free care and some dental hygiene schools as well as offer reduced prices in their student clinics. Call 2-1-1 to find out what is available in your area.

Colon Cancer Check is a screening program to reduce deaths from colorectal cancer. Visit for more information.

MedsCheck is a free program that allows you to schedule an annual 20 to 30-minute one on-one discussion with your pharmacist to make sure you’re using all your medications in a safe and proper way.

You do not have to pay land ambulance fees if you trip is deemed medically necessary and are receiving social assistance, certain home care services or are living in a provincially funded health care home, such as a long-term care home.

If your ambulance trip is deemed not medically essential by an attending doctor or you do not have a valid Ontario health card, you will be billed an ambulance service co-payment charge for each land ambulance trip or the actual cost of an air ambulance trip.

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.

Smoking cessation counselling increases the chance that a smoker will quit. The Canadian Cancer Society provides the Smokers Helpline. The Ontario Drug Benefit program also provides smoking cessation supports to Ontario residents aged 65 years and older, including coverage for prescription cessation medications and access to free cessation counselling by community pharmacists. Public and community health programs also offer a range of smoking cessation programs for support.

Hearing Care Counselling Program by the Canadian Hearing Society. This program offers information on communication devices and other available services in the comfort of their own home for those 55+.

Home Care

If you, or someone you care about, need help living independently, or if you are a senior considering long-term care options, your Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) can help you.  Contact your local LHIN to make an appointment. There is no fee for this service. There is no charge for any professional, personal support or homemaking service provided through a Local Health Integration Network for those who meet eligibility criteria. If you are not eligible for a service, your LHIN can refer you to fee for service community support services. To find your Local Health Integration Network click here.

Most Community Support Services are provided for a service fee although sometimes there is government funding for some services. Some agencies may also provide a sliding scale for fees depending on your income. Your LHIN can provide more information on services fees.

Most of us want to continue living in our own home for as long as possible, but housing needs can change over the course of a lifetime. If you’re thinking of modifying  your home, these Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation online publications may be able to help: Accessible and Adaptable Housing on Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Energy

The Ontario Energy Board’s Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP) and the Ontario Electricity Support Program provide low-income customers financial assistance to pay their gas or electricity bills. If the cost of energy-saving upgrades to your home is out of reach, Ontario’s new Affordability Fund might be able to help. The Affordability Fund are local electric utility companies and community services working together to help you improve your home’s energy efficiency with free energy-saving upgrades, which can lower home energy use and your electricity bill. You may qualify for free upgrades such as Energy Star certified bulbs, appliances, insulation and weather stripping.

Food

If you can’t shop for your own food or cook, rest assured that Meals on Wheels 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, as well as food banks, 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 2-1-1 to find out what food or meal programs are available near you.

Social, Recreation and Education Programs

The longest study on happiness shows good strong relationships with family, friends and your community leads to a happier life and better health. Many community centres offer social and recreation programs, such as crafts, discussion groups, speakers, interactive music programs and films. Another way to keep activated and socially stimulated 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 about free Internet and computer access and training as well as workshops on a range of topics. You can also check the adult education offerings of your local school board, which may offer seniors a reduced rate for night school courses. As well, some boards may offer special day programs geared to seniors. Call 2-1-1 for information on programs in your community or search www.211ontario.ca.

Help With Pet Costs

Pets are often essential to the well-being of many seniors, but paying for their expenses can be stressful when they need emergency help. If you don’t have enough money to pay vet bills, you might be eligible for help from the Farley Foundation which provides help for people on government assistance or seniors in supportive housing and women escaping abuse that are part of the OMVA Safepet program.

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.

More resources:

Old Age Security Toolkit

Ontario Seniors’ Secretariat: A Guide to Programs and Services for Seniors in Ontario

Service Canada: Canadian Retirement Income Calculator

Beware of scammers pretending to be from Canada Revenue Agency

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