How 211 Ontario Can Help You Find Financial Assistance for Utility Bills
In July 2018, Angus Reid looked at the lived experience of Poverty in Canada. The survey found a quarter of Canadians described themselves at struggling or on the edge of financial hardship.
For many low-income Ontario residents, the struggle to meet basic needs, like heating their home, can be just one challenge. There are several programs to help pay utility bills and energy conservation programs in Ontario. Call 211 any time of the day or night to learn about programs in your community, eligibility criteria and how to apply.
“The beauty of 211 is that when you have a bill you can’t pay, all you need to do is pick up the phone and call 211, and they can connect you to a program and inform you whether or not you could qualify,” says Francesca Dobbyn, Executive Director of the United Way of Bruce Grey (UWBG), one of 211 Ontario’s community partners. “When you get up in the morning, you get the peace of mind of knowing that you can phone an agency that can assist you with what you need. That de-stressor is so important to the folks that we’re helping.”
Energy Support for Bruce and Grey County Residents
The UWBG helps local low-income residents pay utility bills that are beyond their reach. In 2009, 211 Central East Ontario began processing applications for the UWBG’s programs, including its Utility Assistance Program, which helps eligible residents with up to $600 every 12 months for wood, oil or propane gas bills and up to $500 for municipal sewer and water bills.
“We were getting calls from people who were struggling with their utilities and were about to be disconnected,” says Dobbyn. “Need drove us to both create and expand the programs.” (The UWBG initially helped out with natural gas bills, then added electricity and non-traditional heating sources.) The wood program “has exploded,” going from 135 applicants in 2017-2018 to 171 in 2018-2019, she says. “We have people who absolutely budget for our program…. They know they need 15 or 16 cords to get through the winter. They will save up and work with their supplier to buy 10 cord and then apply to our program, and we buy the other six cord and the wood supplier delivers it all at once.”
Dobbyn recounts the story of one family who reached out for support after they had run out of wood. “They’d been out, tromping in the bush… trying to find as much free wood as they could….They obviously were burning through it, so they … took the child’s bed apart to burn.” Before Ontario’s ban on winter disconnection more than two years ago, Dobbyn heard “tons of stories of people who got their electricity cut off.”
For just over 10 years, 211 Central East Ontario has processed more than 3,000 energy-related intakes for the UWBG. “The partnership with 211 is really important to us,” says Dobbyn. “I always like to say they listen between the words. People will call 211 about one issue, but they know it’s usually way more than that one issue. And when the 211 Community Navigator has that conversation with a caller, it begins to build trust, and once trust is built, they find out what other needs the caller has.” As she points out, “you could come in struggling with one bill and go out the applications completed for five programs.”
Struggling With High Energy Bills? The 211 helpline can refer you to programs
Few agencies offer support with non-traditional heating sources. If, however, your home is heated by electricity or natural gas, you may be eligible for the below programs. The Ontario Energy Board’s Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP), provides up to $500 in emergency financial assistance to pay gas or electricity bills. Various agencies, like the Homelessness Network in Sudbury or the Salvation Army Community and Family Services in Strathroy, administer LEAP on a local level.
You might also qualify for the Ontario Electricity Support Program (OESP), which applies a monthly credit directly to electricity bills. As well, the Affordability Fund provides eligible residents with Energy Star certified appliances, insulation and weather stripping. There’s also the Save On Energy Program Home Assistance Program, which offers free energy upgrades like high-efficiency showerheads or energy-efficient refrigerators. Additionally, Enbridge Gas’ Home Weatherization Program delivers free insulation upgrades. Social services in a municipality might also be an option; for instance, York Region helps low-income residents with utility bills through its Housing Stability Program.
When preparing your taxes, the Ontario Trillium Benefit offers the Ontario Energy and Property Tax Credit, a tax-free payment to help with property taxes and sales tax on energy costs. The Northern Ontario Energy Credit helps with the higher home energy costs faced by Northern Ontarians.
- To find out about the details of utility bill assistance programs in your community, call 2-1-1.
- You can also chat online with 211 through the link at the top of this page, Monday to Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
- Or you can enter ‘utility assistance’ and your municipality on this page to see if there are utility assistance programs near you.
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