Extended means test makes more disadvantaged Victorians eligible for legal aid

Extended means test makes more disadvantaged Victorians eligible for legal aid

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

More disadvantaged Victorians will be eligible for legal aid when extended financial eligibility is introduced on 1 March.

Victoria Legal Aid Executive Director Legal Practice Kristen Hilton said the changes, the first major cost of living adjustments since 2007, will extend the availability of legal aid to many of the poorest in our community.

‘Many poor Victorians have seen their costs of living go up more than their income or savings, leaving them unable to pay for a lawyer but not eligible for legal aid,’ she said.

‘Extending the reach of our means test will ensure that more disadvantaged Victorians will get legal aid when they need it.’

New means test criteria

Under the new means test criteria, the amount of weekly income someone can have – once their weekly expenses are deducted - will increase from $255 to $360.

Higher living costs such as housing and child care will be taken into account when calculating a person’s weekly expenses, which are used to determine their disposable income.

The amount of equity someone can have in their home will also increase from $300,000 to $500,000 to reflect rising house prices.

Updates to the VLA Handbook for Lawyers and ATLAS will be in place by 1 March.

For more information read New legal aid means test financial eligibility thresholds.

Who will benefit from the changes?

The changes are expected to see up to 700 extra grants of legal assistance approved each year.

‘More disadvantaged Victorians will be eligible for help with civil, criminal and family law problems as a result of the changes,’ Ms Hilton said.

‘However, family law practitioners should pay particular attention to the new home equity thresholds, which are expected to especially benefit people who are experiencing relationship breakdown and are currently unable to get legal aid because of the equity in their home.

‘This change is also expected to help people on disability support pensions and older Victorians, whose home equity has risen in line with property prices but whose income and other assets have not’.

For more information read How people will benefit from the new means test.

Changes first step ahead of full means test review

‘VLA is committed to ensuring we are providing assistance to those who most need it,’ Ms Hilton said.

‘Over the last few years we have changed the way some of our services are delivered by expanding our Legal Help service, providing more duty lawyers and preventative legal information and education.

‘This means we can now increase the number of people who can receive intensive assistance under a grant of legal assistance.’

’We know that some people are just missing out and that this can lead to far greater costs down the track. Extending financial eligibility is the first step in making the means test fairer ahead of a full consultation and review of our eligibility criteria later this year.’

Ms Hilton said while the changes to our means test would increase eligibility for grants of legal assistance too many people were still missing out.

‘We know that better access to justice requires increased government investment in the legal assistance sector and implementation of the Productivity Commission’s recommendation for an extra $200 million would begin to address existing need,’ she said.

The first meeting of the Means Test Review steering committee will be held later this month.It includes representatives from the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department, Department of Justice and Regulation, Federation of Community Legal Centres, Victorian Council of Social Services and Law Institute of Victoria.

More information 

Read about the New legal aid means test financial eligibility thresholds.

For media enquiries please contact Janine Sim-Jones, Manager, Program Communications on 0402 715 381 or JanineSJ@vla.vic.gov.au.

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