Ontario Works (OW)

Ontario Works used to be called "General Welfare Assistance". It is one of two social assistance programs in the Province of Ontario. If you have little or no income, you may qualify for assistance from Ontario Works. OW 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 Niagara, you can either Apply Online  or call 905-641-9230 or 1-866-627-1110 (from West Niagara). Our Clinic offers information, advice and representation if you have been denied OW or your benefits have been suspended or terminated, a benefit has been cancelled or suspended or an overpayment has been established on your case. 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 benefit and Employment Start Up.

Who is eligible for OW 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 (Ontario Disability Support Program: ODSP) and need assistance while they are waiting for these benefits to begin

The City of Hamilton is responsible for Ontario Works. 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.

What if I my OW Benefits are denied or terminated? (Appeals)

If you are denied Ontario Works or your benefits have been suspended or terminated, 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.

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.:

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 shelter allowance.  This allowance is based on the amount of your rent, utilities, water and home insurance.

Drug Card:

If you qualify for Ontario Works benefits, you will receive a drug card to cover 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.)

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.

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

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.

Please contact our legal clinic if you have been denied, suspended benefits or have been subject to an overpayment if you request further legal information and assistance.


The Steps to Justice website offers step-by-step information about Ontario Works and other common legal problems.