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Because hunger doesn't wait for policy change.





It’s tax time: are people on low incomes getting all the benefits they’re entitled to?

For thousands accessing food banks across Toronto, lack of income is the key driver of hunger. Clients on average spend 71 per cent of their income on rent, which leaves little for food and other necessities. For many, an extra hundred dollars or more a month could mean the difference between being able to afford groceries or having to access a food bank, being able to pay rent without skipping meals, or not needing to access a food bank as frequently.

While much needs to be done to improve and strengthen our social safety net and income security system, there is extra income that is already available through our tax system, but receiving these benefits is dependent on people filing their taxes.

Food banks can help remove barriers to accessing extra income

Sometimes people don’t file their taxes because they are not aware of the benefits to them, or may encounter other barriers due to the complexity and administrative requirements involved. Unfortunately, people on low incomes are losing out on potentially thousands of dollars of additional income because of these barriers.

Recognizing the barriers many low income people face in getting the benefits from tax filing, some food banks and other member agencies of Daily Bread Food Bank provide tax clinics and other tax filing assistance for their clients. With targeted outreach and administrative and technological support, many more low income people could be receiving all the benefits they’re entitled to receive.

Daily Bread Food Bank member agencies such as The Bluffs, New Toronto Street Food Bank, St. James Food Basket, Toronto West SDA, and Native Canadian Centre among many others offer tax filing assistance. These member agencies are similar to many other community tax clinics that provide trained volunteers, many through the Canada Revenue Agency’s Community Volunteer Income Tax Program (CVITP), which help people file their taxes through one on one support. Through continued outreach such as this, hopefully more people who are less likely to file taxes will be able to do so, and be informed of all the benefits to which they’re entitled.

Who’s filing – and who’s not filing – by the numbers

In 2013 Daily Bread’s Who’s Hungry survey found that 72 per cent of respondents accessing food banks across the GTA had filed their income taxes that year.1 While it is good news that nearly three quarters of respondents filed their taxes and are getting the benefits they are entitled to, there are more than 25 per cent of clients who are potentially missing out. And despite outreach efforts to inform people of these benefits, newer strategies may be needed to reach those who are less likely to file.

The Maytree Foundation recently published a piece entitled “Filing taxes brings major benefits to people on low incomes”. The article, which will be referenced throughout this report, noted that while provincial and federal tax benefits such as the Canada Child Benefit, Old Age Security, and GST/HST credits can cumulatively add up to thousands of dollars of additional income for low income households, many miss out because they either don’t file or are not aware of what they’re eligible to apply for or even how to apply.

Of those who do not file, the Who’s Hungry survey found that certain demographic groups accessing food banks were less likely to file than others.2 They include single people, households receiving social assistance as a main form of income, and recent newcomers who have been in Canada for more than a year but less than four years. These groups are not mutually exclusive, and many issues they face overlap. Highlighting those groups who are less likely to file may help to provide some insight as to what some potential barriers to filing might be and where more outreach may be needed.

Single person households

Single Person Household Bar Chart

Single person households are significantly less likely to have filed their taxes, with 69 per cent filing a tax return the previous year compared to 75 per cent for other household types.

Of all household types, working age single person households without children have the least amount of pre-retirement tax credits available to them, unlike households with children who can access various child tax benefits, including the Ontario Child Benefit and the Canada Child Tax Benefit. For single people living on low income, there may be less incentive to file taxes due to lack of awareness of the benefits that are available to them even if they had no employment income the previous year.

Social assistance as a main source of income

Bar 2

People receiving social assistance as their main form of income are also significantly less likely to have filed their taxes the previous year, with 70 per cent reporting that they filed compared with 78 per cent not receiving social assistance as their main form of income. Respondents who were not receiving social assistance as their main form of income were receiving other sources such as employment, pensions, or child tax benefits.

In addition to the misperception that if they don’t owe income tax there is little reason to file, people receiving social assistance may face other barriers. In Maytree’s article, it was noted that since the CRA is promoting electronic filing the lack of accessibility for people with disabilities or those who don’t have high-speed internet or a computer, may pose barriers. Clients living on social assistance spend the vast majority of their income on rent and utilities, and some may not be able to afford to have high speed internet at home.

The article also noted that “people with low incomes experiencing challenges or who have complex tax situations may need hands-on help to tax file, but can’t afford paid tax advisors and may not know where to turn for free help it it’s available in their community.”

Recent newcomers

Bar 3

Recent newcomers, for the purposes of this analysis defined as being in Canada for four years or less (but here for more than one year), are less likely to have filed their taxes. Fifty-seven per cent of recent newcomers filed their taxes the previous year, versus 76 per cent of those who are not recent newcomers.

The barriers faced by recent newcomers are similar to those faced by others, including lack of awareness of available benefits, cost, and lack of knowledge of the system that affect their ability to access a range of services beyond just financial ones. Limited knowledge of English could be another reason, with a previous study by Daily Bread noting that those who did not have a good command of the language were less likely to file.

Despite being more likely to file their taxes, low income seniors are still not receiving all the benefits they’re entitled to

Bar 4

According to the 2013 Who’s Hungry survey, respondents who were seniors 65 or older were significantly more likely to have filed their taxes: 85 per cent filed the previous year compared to 71 per cent who were not seniors. However, only 11 per cent were receiving the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors, even though many more were likely eligible. The most recent Who’s Hungry survey for 2016 did not ask a question about tax filing, but the number of seniors accessing the GIS had not significantly changed.

The Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) is part of a basic income-type program that exists for seniors in Canada. Low income seniors qualify for the GIS if they are receiving the Old Age Security pension (OAS), and have an annual income lower than a set threshold ($17,544 annually for a single person household, or approximately $1,500 per month). They also need to have resided in Canada for at least 10 years in order to receive it.

The Maytree report referenced an evaluation by Human Resources and Development Canada, which estimated that while 87 per cent of eligible seniors are accessing the GIS, there are potentially 200,000 more who may be missing out.

Food bank clients who are seniors provide some insight as to the circumstances of those who are not receiving the benefit.


The median monthly income reported by Who’s Hungry survey respondents 65 and over is $1,200 per month, which from a financial standpoint make them eligible for the GIS. While three quarters of survey respondents were not born in Canada, the vast majority – 74 per cent – have lived here at least 10 years or more which would make also them eligible due to their length of residence in Canada.

In order to receive the GIS, a senior must specifically request it when applying for OAS. While a much higher percentage of senior respondents (50%) reported that they were receiving OAS, it’s still possible that some are not applying for that source of income as well even though they’re entitled to it.

Because the application process for both OAS and GIS can be administratively complex without some assistance, language barriers may be a factor for some seniors in Toronto not accessing it. Fifty-one per cent of seniors reported not speaking English as their main language at home. Other seniors who have just turned 65 may not have applied in time, and are still receiving social assistance (either Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program) despite being qualified to receive seniors’ benefits that could increase their income by hundreds of dollars a month.

“Tax-filing is a proven way to improve the financial situation of Canadians with low incomes, but has yet to be fully exploited as a means to reduce poverty in Canada.”

– U. Bajwa

Further reading

Accessing Income-Boosting Benefits Through Tax Filing – U. Bajwa for Prosper Canada

Filing Your First Tax Return in Canada: Free Resources For Newcomers – Toronto Public Library

As a doctor, here’s why I’m prescribing tax returns. Seriously. – Gary Bloch, Globe and Mail

1 The results from the 2013 Who’s Hungry survey are based on 1680 interviews conducted with people accessing food banks across the GTA.

2 Chi square analyses were conducted for the results in this report, with significance at the .05 level.

Date Added: March 31, 2017 | Filed under: Blog, Information, News, Research — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Adam Paralovos @ 2:07 pm

Food security and the “Big Four”

By: Haiat Iman, Research and Survey Coordinator

After Daily Bread Food Bank released the 2016 Who’s Hungry report, Daily Bread held informal focus groups with food bank clients. This two-part series describes clients’ day-to-day experience of food insecurity and their survival strategies. Read the second blog post in this series here.

“If you don’t have cooking facilities or can’t use your kitchen for whatever reason, you only buy foods that you can store in your room.” – Food bank client

In their article “The “Welfare Diet” 20 years later: The growing nutrition crisis for Ontario’s poorest people” co-authors John Stapleton, a board member of Daily Bread, and Jamille Clarke-Darshanand present various theories that explain why people on low income don’t have healthier diets.

One factor is having access to what Stapleton calls the Big Four: storage, cooking, refrigeration and freezing facilities. The presence or absence of the Big Four affect the food that people on low incomes can regularly – and safely – eat.

What if you don’t have food storage?
Daily Bread Food Bank’s focus group participants reported that in homes where kitchens are shared (such as rooming houses or subsidized housing), appliances and food are at risk of being stolen, so tenants keep food in their rooms. This not only limits how much they can keep and refrigerate at one time, but also dictates what they are able to bring home from the food bank or the grocery store.

What if you don’t have anywhere to cook?
Focus group participants who have nowhere to heat up food report that they will drink a can of soup cold. Some clients also reported that they don’t buy or take home canned foods such as soups or tuna from the grocery stores or food banks because they do not own or have access to a can opener.

What if you don’t have reliable refrigeration and freezing facilities?
One client who lives in a rooming house reported that he doesn’t use the kitchen to store or cook his food. Instead, he uses a mini bar fridge which he keeps in his room, and shops for items that he knows he can fit into it. The bar fridge also didn’t keep milk cold enough so it went bad quickly. Currently, he has access to a freezer so he buys three bags of milk, and stores two in the freezer, so if one bag of milk goes bad, it’s only a partial loss. A smaller carton of milk would fit in his fridge but is less economical.

Without access to proper refrigeration facilities he isn’t able to purchase fresh produce, and he is limited in how much food he can buy due to the limited space in his fridge. He chooses to purchase foods that don’t require refrigeration, stocking up on canned soup because it is easy to store and prepare. He heats it up on a hot plate which he also keeps in his room.

Final thoughts
“Without secure housing, there is nowhere to store food safely and protect it from theft. In public housing, appliances break down regularly and take a long time to get fixed. Hydro costs are very high, and are often exacerbated by monthly interest on unpaid bills. Without access to the big four, it is difficult for the poor to consume a healthy diet.“

–from The “Welfare Diet” 20 years later: The growing nutrition crisis for Ontario’s poorest people

Date Added: November 15, 2016 | Filed under: Blog, Information, News, Policy — Tags: , , , , , — Adam Paralovos @ 10:48 am

How food bank clients stretch their food resources

By: Haiat Iman, Research and Survey Coordinator

After Daily Bread Food Bank released the 2016 Who’s Hungry report, Daily Bread held informal focus groups with food bank clients. This two-part series describes clients’ day-to-day experience of food insecurity and their survival strategies. Read the first blog post in this series here.

Hunger has become a distressing reality for many families in Toronto. The number of people reliant on food banks as a source of food has reached alarming heights and is still rising, with a 13% increase in food bank visits since 2008.

According to the 2016 Who’s Hungry report, the average income of a food bank client is $750 per month, with at least 71% of their incomes spent on rent and utilities. On average, once rent and utilities were paid, food bank clients had $7.09 left over for any additional expenses, including food.

Food banks are also struggling: declines in donations and increases in a need for food aid challenge food banks’ ability to assist all those who seek their services. People struggling with hunger are forced to be resourceful in their abilities to stretch their dollars and make their food supply last.

Focus group participants reported numerous ways in which they stretch their limited food resources when they do not have the means to purchase additional food.

    • Those who have no money either do without a meal or find organizations that offer meal programs – but to exercise the latter option, however, requires that one be mobile: they must have access to transportation to get to these locations or be healthy enough to walk there.

    • Some focus group participants volunteer at food banks to get extra food.

    • Many respondents reported that they ration their meals, water down their soups, or try to stay full on liquids.

    • Some food bank clients say they have condensed milk and a few bags of tea steeping all day on the stove for anyone to drink in order to stay full.

    • Some reported watering down juice to make it last longer.

    • Some pooled their resources with others who struggle with hunger and shared a meal together.

Daily Bread Food Bank’s annual Who’s Hungry report offers detailed statistics and analysis about the impact of food insecurity in Toronto.

To read the most recent report, go to:

Date Added: | Filed under: Blog, News, Policy — Tags: , , , , , — Adam Paralovos @ 10:48 am