Why benefits matter

According to researchers at York University, “Income is perhaps the most important social determinant of health. Level of income shapes overall living conditions, affects psychological functioning, and influences health-related behaviours... In Canada, income determines the quality of other social determinants of health such as food security, housing, and other basic prerequisites of health"..

So why do benefits matter?

Benefits can make a huge difference in the income level of people living on low incomes. It can be the difference between housing and homelessness, feeding your family or going hungry. Access to benefits increase household income. Benefits help people and families achieve a better quality of life.

However, the truth is many people do not access the benefits they are entitled to.

  • One estimate of three benefits found that $1.7B in federal benefits were not claimed in 2015.
  • Only 32 per cent of eligible Canadians have a Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP), which is necessary to receive matching contributions, and up to $1,000 a year for individuals living on low incomes through the Canada Disability Savings Bond, from the federal government.
  • There is only a 43% take up rate for the Canada Learning Bond despite the government’s continued efforts to promote this benefit for families living on low incomes.

Any time an individual accesses any kind of social service, it is an opportunity to inform them of the benefits they might be eligible for, and how to access them.

There are many ways you can help, including:

  • Referring them to a tax clinic
  • Covering the cost of obtaining identification
  • Providing them with access to technology
  • Supporting them as they navigate the online application process.

If you are a health care provider, a food bank, an employment agency or other social service provider, helping people to access benefits and increase their income can empower them to improve their situation as part of a wholistic approach to service delivery.

This toolkit outlines the ways you and your organization can provide access to benefit services, and provides information on the resources, training, and time it might take to offer them.

See below for an example of what effect access to benefit services could look like.

Jackie’s situation

"Jackie" contacted Thunder Bay Counselling looking for assistance to deal with her financial crises. Jackie had been experiencing health issues for many years. During this period, she lost her employment and started receiving financial assistance through Ontario Works. However, her income was insufficient to cover her expenses, and with her health issues she was no longer able to manage her finances.

Connecting with an organization

When she contacted the Financial Counsellor, she was at risk of losing her housing and was facing legal action on accounts in arrears. She was overwhelmed by the legal correspondence she was receiving and by the looming deadline for her eviction. The Financial Counsellor helped Jackie to understand her legal and financial situation, and to connect to community legal support. Together, they used the Benefit wayfinder to find a couple of benefits Jackie was not receiving, figuring out the steps needed to apply for them.


The counsellor then helped Jackie to communicate with the lawyers regarding her financial situation resulting in Jackie being able to maintain her housing. They continue to work on benefit applications and budget updates to ensure that Jackie has the tools and skills to maintain her finances going forward. Jackie says the support was a "lifesaver" and she is now looking forward to and planning for the future.

Start navigating the benefits journey

See how you can offer supports throughout a person’s journey towards getting and maintaining benefits. Pin what you’d like to investigate, hide what you find out of scope for now, and keep track of what you’ve read.