Ontario Works and home based education

Information for homeschooling families applying for government assistance from Ontario Works (OW), and OW recipients wishing to start homeschooling. You can skip to the FAQ if you prefer to get straight to the practical answers.

What does the Law say?

The Ontario Works Act 1997 and its Regulations do not explicitly address the issue of exemption from school attendance for a recipient’s dependent children. We have to assume that the phrase “a program approved by the administrator” is considered to include homeschooling, otherwise  a homeschooled child might not technically be considered a “dependent child” according to the definition in the General Regulation:

2.(3)  For the purposes of the Act and the regulations, a child is a dependent child, in relation to an applicant or recipient, if, [...]

(d) in the case of a child of school age, [...], the child,

(i) is attending school or a program approved by the administrator,

(ii) is unable to attend school because of a physical or mental disability, or

(iii) is unable to attend school for reasons outside his or her control and the administrator is satisfied that he or she will be attending school or a program approved by the administrator at the next earliest opportunity;

There is, however, a Policy Directive which addresses schooling and home schooling: Directive 3.9, Dependent Children, which states that,

A dependent child may not be required to attend school or an approved program in certain circumstances, including:

[...]

  • He/she is receiving instruction at home or elsewhere as approved by the school board.

In practice, “as approved by the school board” usually refers to the letter of acknowledgement that the school board sends in response to the letter of intent.

If you do not have such a letter and are unwilling to obtain it, you have two options:

  • When your OW office asks for verification of homeschooling, you can ask if they will accept a letter from OFTP certifying your OFTP membership, which is what some Ontario Works offices have accepted in the past. Obviously, you would need to be or become an OFTP member in order for OFTP to issue such a letter.
  • You can renounce having your child included in the calculation of the benefit unit’s budgetary requirements. This does not affect your own eligibility.

If your child is excluded from the calculation of budgetary requirements because you do not have written verification of your homeschooling status in a form that is acceptable to the OW office, it does not mean you cannot homeschool, nor does it affect your own eligibility for OW benefits. It simply means that you will not receive OW funds to cover your child, you will only receive your own OW amounts as recipient (plus amounts for your spouse if applicable). However, your child is still included in health benefits. Directive 3.9 states:

If a child in a benefit unit is not attending school or a training program approved by the Administrator and no exception to the school attendance requirement applies, the child is removed from the calculation of the benefit unit’s budgetary requirements. The child remains in the benefit unit and continues to be eligible for mandatory and discretionary benefits including drug, dental and vision care.

If your child is included in the calculation of the budgetary requirements, it will increase the amount of financial assistance you receive, but only for the Shelter allowance, not for the Basic Needs allowance if your child is under age 18 and you have a spouse. As of August 2009, OW recipients’ children under age 18 no longer receive any Basic Needs allowance even if they are included in the benefit unit (children under age 13 were removed from the calculation of Basic Needs in August 2008). The exception is that recipients without a spouse receive an extra $120/month for the basic needs of their children, no matter how many children there are.

Please note: OW used to deduct a portion of the Child Tax Benefit for children included in the benefit unit. This is no longer the case. This otherwise good news is offset by the fact that OW no longer provides Basic Needs allowances for children under the age of 18. Presumably, the government expects the Canada Child Tax Benefit and Ontario Child Benefit to provide the support needed for children’s basic needs not covered by OW.

 

FAQ on homeschooling while on Ontario Works

Am I allowed to homeschool my child while I am on Ontario Works?

Yes, under the following conditions:

  • It does not exempt you from your obligations to meet the usual OW requirements: get training, look for work, be available for work, accept work. That means you will have to have childcare arrangements in place if your child is too young to stay at home alone while you are fulfilling your OW obligations.
  • You will need written verification that you are homeschooling.

The first condition relates to your own eligibility for Ontario Works benefits, while the second condition relates to the eligibility of your dependent child to be “included in the calculation of the budgetary requirements of the benefit unit.”

If your child is included in the calculations, it will increase the amount of financial assistance you receive, but only for the amount of shelter costs allowed per person in the benefit unit, regardless of whether the person is a child or an adult.

If your child is excluded from the calculation of shelter costs because you do not have written verification of your homeschooling status in a form that is acceptable to the OW office, it does not mean you cannot homeschool, nor does it affect your own eligibility for OW benefits. It simply means that you will receive less for shelter costs.

For the exact amounts involved, see the table in Directive 6.3 Shelter

What written proof of homeschooling will the OW office accept?

Usually, the OW office requires a letter from the school board, but some have accepted a letter from OFTP verifying OFTP membership status.

If you have withdrawn your child from school, you will have sent the school board a written letter of intent and should have received a letter of acknowledgment from the board in reply. In that case, that letter of acknowledgment is the written verification you should use.

What if I didn’t receive a reply to my letter of intent?

If you sent your letter of intent but did not receive a written reply, you can send a second letter explaining your need for the written acknowledgment and expressing explicitly that it is for the purpose of fulfilling requirements for another branch of the government. If you still receive no letter in reply, you might explain your difficulty to the OW office and provide them with copies of your two letters to the board, and/or a letter from OFTP verifying your OFTP membership status.

What if my child has never attended school?

You can still send a letter of intent to the school board and request a reply letter of acknowledgment; or you can obtain a letter from OFTP verifying your OFTP membership status, which may or may not be accepted by the OW office.

If you are unwilling to interact with the school board so as to obtain a letter of acknowledgment, and if you are not a member of OFTP or you are an OFTP member but the OW office is unwilling to accept your OFTP letter as sufficient verification of your homeschooling status, you have the option of forfeiting your child’s inclusion in the calculation of budgetary requirements of the benefit unit. It is only your shelter allowance that will be affected (and the per-family amount for children’s basic needs if you have no spouse). It does not affect your own eligibility nor the inclusion of the child in the health benefits.

As mentioned earlier, the financial difference is not as great as you might think, since children are no longer included in the calculation of basic needs, only shelter. The bulk of the shelter allowance is what you get as the recipient. Aside from a relatively meaningful amount for the second person (spouse, or child if you’re a single parent), the shelter cost increases are between $27 and $55/month per extra person, capped at 6 persons.

For the exact current amounts, see the table in Directive 6.3 Shelter.

Full text of the Act, Regulations and Policy Directives

Ministry website