Means Test Review

Means Test Review

Demand exceeds supply

We use eligibility tools to ensure that resources are targeted to those most in need of legal assistance. Financial eligibility, measured by the means test, is the first hurdle of eligibility for a grant of legal assistance.

Our means test was designed to make sure that Victorians who couldn’t afford a lawyer could get access to a lawyer. Our clients will often be facing a life crisis including criminal charges against them, losing access to their children or being excluded from essential social services.

The purpose of our Means Test Review

We have reviewed our means test. The goal of the Means Test Review was to establish a fairer and more easily understood means test to ensure our services are properly targeted to those most in need.

The purpose of the means test review was to:

  • consult broadly to examine possible changes to our means test to ensure that more Victorians who need it, qualify for legal aid
  • develop and implement a revised means test and contributions policy that is simple to understand, flexible, efficient to administer, financially sustainable and fair.

Our changes have been targeted to make it easier for people who are in unstable employment, in insecure housing, or fleeing from family violence to get legal help.

When people don’t have access to a lawyer

The means test was designed to make sure that Victorians who couldn’t afford a lawyer could get access to a lawyer. Our clients will often be facing a life crisis including criminal charges against them, loosing access to their children or they could be excluded from essential social services. The consequence of Victorians not being able to access a lawyer when faced with going to court or defending themselves alone, include:

  • an overburdened criminal justice system with self-represented litigants not understanding the legal process
  • legal problems escalate and a higher chance of reoffending increases
  • community safety is compromised as individuals are not receiving fair treatment before the court if they cannot access legal help
  • no access to justice when other Victorians can afford a lawyer.

What we will be changing

Targeted changes to help casually employed, young people and those in insecure housing situations.

We developed some recommendations to change the means test using what we found from our two consultations. We want to make the means test simpler, fairer and more accessible. The VLA Board has supported changes including:

  • waiving the need to provide documents in some circumstances
  • creating an online means test calculator
  • exempting children from the means test
  • providing additional training and guidance.

These changes are targeted to make it easier for people who are:

  • casually employed or have unstable employment
  • vulnerable young people, and
  • people in insecure housing situations.

Our review process

There are four key stages of the review.

1. Consultation

In 2016 we launched the Means Test Review with the release of a Consultation Paper. We asked people to tell us about their experience of missing out on legal aid and put out a call for written submissions about how we could improve our means test.

2. Options

Following consultation and research, we developed 47 possible changes to our means test. These changes were rated by their impact, cost and whether they would make our means test simpler or fairer. We also looked at what other social services across the world were doing that might assist us in revising our test.

We released an Options Paper in May 2017 along with an online survey so that people could tell us what they thought of these possible changes. People were also able to make further submissions to the Review.

3. Final recommendations

In November 2017, we presented a Final Recommendations Report to the VLA Board of Directors containing 22 recommendations for change to our means test. These changes were prioritised by their impact and cost. The 22 changes were approved by our Board.

We also highlighted an additional 21 changes that should be made to our means test should additional funding be made available.

4. Implementation

Work is now underway to implement the 22 changes, with our revised means test coming into effect on 1 July 2018.

Our public report and the list of changes will be released soon. 

Received submissions and downloads

Submissions

More information

For queries about the review, please email meanstestreview@vla.vic.gov.au

For general queries about legal aid eligibility, please phone 1300 792 387.