Learndra Hurliman/Alexa Mihailoff

Legal Aid is government funding that pays for legal help for people who are in circumstances where they are unable to afford a lawyer privately. 

Legal aid may be available for people who are:

-      charged with a criminal offence

-      involved in a family dispute that goes to court (such as care of children)

-      involved in a civil matter (such as a dispute over money, housing, ACC or unfairly losing your job)

-      a victim of a violent offence wanting to apply for a Protection Order.

Not all lawyers are able to act for you under the Legal Aid scheme.  Lawyers who provide Legal Aid are specially approved by the government for this service.

Although Legal Aid can be very helpful and necessary in circumstances where you cannot afford to pay for a lawyer, Legal Aid is a loan, not a gift.  Depending on your circumstances you may have to pay back all or some of your Legal Aid costs.

If the likely cost of your Legal Aid is more than $300, the Legal Services Commissioner may take a charge over your house, land (if you own it) or vehicle.  This can include property owned by your partner.  If a charge is issued this means that when the property is sold, any Legal Aid debt you have will be repaid before you receive the sale money.

Most applications for Legal Aid also require you to pay a User Charge fee of $50.00.

If you believe you need Legal Aid, the first step is to contact a lawyer who provides Legal Aid services.  You will need to complete an application form, which includes information about your financial circumstances, such as income and outgoings, the value of your assets such as your house, car, bank accounts and whether you have any financial dependents, i.e. your child/children or a partner. 

If you have a partner their financial information may also need to be taken into consideration.  You also need to provide information about your case and why you believe a grant of Legal Aid is necessary.  A lawyer will normally assist you with completing and submitting your application.  A decision is usually made within 15 working days of receiving a Legal Aid application.

Here at Billings Lawyers we provide Legal Aid for Family and Civil matters.  If you need legal help and you think you may be eligible for Legal Aid don’t hesitate to contact us.  

More information is also available at www.justice.govt.nz.