Income Support

This section of the resource provides information on:

Why Income Support is Relevant to Violence Against Women (VAW) Service Workers

A woman who is experiencing violence may need income support. If she chooses to leave her home and her abusive partner, she is likely to experience a loss of income. Or she may want to apply for income support as part of her plan to leave her relationship. In the case of separation or divorce, she may receive child support or claim spousal support. If she has been the victim of a crime – and domestic violence is a crime – she may be able to receive compensation through victims’ funds as well as social assistance. A VAW support worker can assist a woman to find out about and apply for various forms of income support. If she applied for income support and was denied, a VAW support staff can help her follow up with the income support office to provide additional information or request reconsideration or to file an appeal.

Forms of Income Support

Each province and territory has programs which allow eligible residents to apply for income support. These programs provide money and other benefits to individuals and families in need.

Income support is also known as financial assistance, social assistance or welfare. Generally, income support includes a living allowance for food, travel and clothing, as well as household and personal needs; a shelter allowance for rent or mortgage; and a utility allowance for gas, hydro, water, and phone. It may include additional health benefits such as dental coverage. The amount that a woman gets each month will vary depending on her personal circumstances.

In most provinces, income support is linked to employment support services. That is, recipients are encouraged and supported to seek training and employment. In some provinces, such as Ontario, a person has to agree to take part in job search activities in order to be eligible.

In the case of divorce or separation, a woman may also be entitled to receive child support and spousal support.

Depending on where she lives, a woman may also be eligible for other forms of financial assistance, such as support for training, an additional supplement for rental housing, or an employment supplement that covers child-related cost of going to work.

Moving on and off reserve

The federal government regulates income assistance on reserve through First Nations bands, while the provincial government administers it off reserve. Therefore, if a First Nations woman living on reserve and receiving income support moves off reserve, she may need to apply for provincial income support. In general, provincial and federal income support programs are intended to be aligned, however eligibility criteria may differ as well as the amount of support and the level of programs and services available on-reserve.

Barriers to women in accessing income support

Income assistance policies clearly state that it is meant to be a “last resort” and therefore potential recipients must prove that they have exhausted all other financial avenues. That is, they must show that they have spent their savings and have no assets, except for any exemptions. According to the Welfare Income (2006 & 2007) report by the National Council of Welfare, having no or low exemptions for assets for some applicants means that some people have to spend their last dollar before they can become eligible.

In the Alberta training session, we heard that it was sometimes hard for women to qualify for provincial income support if they left the reserve, particularly if they left the reserve in crisis, without stable employment or housing off-reserve.

While each province and territory has income assistance programs and policies, there is some discretion and variability in the way they are interpreted and applied. This means that an income support caseworker or supervisor may have some flexibility in how she implements a policy. For this reason it is useful for VAW support workers to develop positive relationships with the income support staff so as to help ensure that policies and programs are interpreted and applied to best meet the needs of Aboriginal women.

How VAW Support Staff can Help with Income Support

  • Develop good working relationships with local welfare officesVAW support staff and advocates can have a positive impact on outcomes for their clients by developing good relationships with the case workers at their local welfare office. A meeting with the case worker can provide an opportunity for VAW service workers to discuss the types of barriers First Nations, Métis and Inuit women face in getting income support and ways in which they can be addressed. Such meetings may also influence the interpretation and application of existing policies to better meet the needs of FNMI women experiencing violence.
  • Insist on respectful treatmentThe National Council of Welfare concluded that the process of applying for social assistance can be “complicated, cumbersome and stigmatizing”. However, VAW support workers and advocates can help to ensure that women are treated respectfully during the process.
  • Appeal a decisionIf a woman disagrees with a decision regarding her application, the VAW service worker can also help her to file an appeal.

Disability Income Support

Women with permanent disabilities may qualify for benefits under a federal, provincial or territorial program which provides a fixed income, along with a disability amount to help with costs related to the disability.

If a woman qualifies for disability income support, this replaces general income assistance.

Why is Compensation for Criminal Injuries Important to Women Experiencing Violence?

A crime is an act that is an offence under the Criminal Code. Acts of domestic violence are criminal offences, and women who experience such violence are victims of crime. According to the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crimes, all Canadian provinces and territories provide financial compensation to victims of violent crimes, except for Newfoundland, Yukon and Nunavut.

Costs that can be compensated vary from province to province, but can include:

  • Medical expenses (i.e. prescription fees, ambulance rides, dental work)
  • Mental health/counselling expenses
  • Pain and suffering
  • Support for a child born as a result of a sexual assault
  • Lost wages for incapacitated or disabled victims
  • Lost support for dependents of victims
  • Funeral expenses
  • Rehabilitation for disabled victims
  • Expenses to obtain documents
  • Expenses to attend hearings
  • Services to replace work in the home previously performed by the victim
  • Property loss/damage
  • Protective measures and relocation expense

In most jurisdictions – but not all – to apply, the crime must have been reported to the police and an application form must be filled out and submitted within one or two years after the crime was committed or reported, depending on the province or territory. As noted, there are exceptions and these should be checked.

How can VAW Service Staff and Community Advocates Help with a Criminal Injuries Compensation Claim?

Women may not be aware that they can receive financial compensation as a result of having been a victim of domestic violence. A VAW support staff can assist women to claim financial compensation as a result of having been a victim by:

  • validating her experiences of violence
  • providing her information about possible compensation for domestic violence
  • Identifying the types of compensation available in her jurisdiction;
  • Assisting her in gathering any documentation or evidence which may support a claim for compensation
  • Assisting her in making the application, including by helping her organize the information submitted and “telling her story” in a factual and linear fashion

Current as of January 2014.

Useful Resources

Income Assistance Resources


Alberta Human Services


Manitoba Government


Department of Education

Roundtable for Poverty Reduction

Northwest Territories

Department of Education, Culture and Employment


Ministry of Community and Social Services


Social Services Government of Saskatchewan

General Resources

Citizens for Public Justice

Criminal Injuries Compensation


Ministry of Justice


Criminal Injuries Compensation Board


Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General


Manitoba Justice

Northwest Territories

NWT Department of Justice