If you have a legal problem and cannot afford a lawyer, we may be able to pay for a lawyer to help you. This is called a ‘grant of legal assistance’.
Our funds are limited and demand for legal services is high. We have guidelines that set out our rules about when we will give a grant of legal assistance. You can only get a grant of legal assistance if your legal problem and your financial circumstances meet our guidelines. This means that our money goes to help people who need us the most.
Which legal problems?
Our guidelines contain a detailed list of legal matters for which we may provide a grant of legal assistance. Most grants of legal assistance are for criminal or family law matters. A small number of grants are also provided in some other matters such as guardianship, infringements, migration, social security, mental health and discrimination matters.
To qualify for a grant of legal assistance, your legal problem must be in our guidelines. Most legal problems must meet the relevant reasonableness test in the guidelines (called a merits test). Our guidelines contain different merits test for different legal problems. Depending on your legal problem, the merits test will require us to consider some of the following:
- what the likely benefits to you and the public will be from a grant of legal assistance
- whether those benefits justify the cost of legal assistance
- what the likely harm to you will be if a grant is refused
- whether a court proceeding is likely to end well for you
- whether it is in the interests of justice that a grant is provided
- if your legal problem is a criminal appeal, whether there are reasonable grounds for the appeal
- whether you are likely to succeed in your legal problem
- whether a careful person with limited money would risk their own money to pay for the legal action.
What financial circumstances?
Our guidelines include a means test. The means test applies to most adults. Most adults must meet the means test to get a grant of legal assistance.
We use the means test to assess whether you can afford to pay for your own lawyer. The means test looks at your income, assets and expenses. If anyone else gives you financial support (such as a spouse, partner or other family member), the means test will also look at that person’s income, assets and expenses.
The means test sets out the amount of income and assets that you (and any other person who gives you financial support) can have to be eligible for a grant of legal assistance.
The means test looks at your full financial situation. Some of the things it takes into account include:
- money you get from work, welfare benefits or other sources
- if you own anything of value, like a house or car
- your weekly living expenses
- whether you have anyone relying on you for financial support.
Applying for a grant of legal assistance
By regular mail
You will need to fill out this application form and mail to:
Grants and Quality Assurance
Level 9, 570 Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Help with your application
Victoria Legal Aid lawyers and private lawyers who do legal aid work can help you fill out and submit an application form for free. They can also help you get information that supports your application. to find out who can help you.
The form has questions about your legal problem and your financial situation to help us work out if you can get a grant of legal assistance.
You will also need to give us documents to support your application, including:
- proof of your income, such as a recent payslip, health care card or Centrelink benefit statement
- bank or credit union account statements for the last three months.
This information must be provided for you and for any person who financially supports you.
To help us process your application quickly, make sure you have completed the checklist at the end of the application form.
If you get a grant
A grant may pay for some or all of the following types of work by a lawyer:
- legal advice
- helping you resolve matters in dispute
- preparing legal documents
- representing you in court.
If you are eligible for a grant of legal assistance we will send a letter to you and to the lawyer helping you with your legal problem. The letter will tell you:
- what assistance we will pay for
- any conditions we have imposed
- your obligations to us
- your lawyer’s name and contact details
- the date your assistance begins
- your rights if you do not agree with the nature or extent of your legal assistance, or conditions we have imposed.
On the application form you have the choice to have this letter and all other correspondence from us sent to your postal address, email address or to your lawyer.
There may be a limit to how much money is available to pay for your legal problem – this is called a ‘cost ceiling’.
It is important that you and your lawyer understand these limits. If the cost ceiling is reached before your case is over, you may have to:
- finish the case without our help
- apply for further assistance.
You can ask us how much money is left at any stage.
General terms of a grant
By accepting the offer of a grant of legal assistance, you also agree to our Standard terms of legal assistance. The obligations in our Standard terms apply to all grants of legal assistance. If we have imposed any conditions, you also agree to meet those conditions. If you do not comply with all of the Standard terms and any imposed conditions, we may cancel or change your grant of legal assistance. You may have to pay some or all of the costs of your case up to that point. Our Standard terms include:
- You must tell us or your lawyer immediately if any of your circumstances change while you are getting legal assistance from us.
- You must follow your lawyer’s advice.
- You allow your lawyer to give us any information we need to carry out our functions under the Legal Aid Act 1978.
- Your lawyer must tell us if they receive any money on your behalf.
- Any costs you receive must be paid to us (however, this does not apply to damages).
Contributions and charges
Legal assistance is not always free. Depending on your financial situation, you may be asked to:
- pay some money towards the cost of the lawyer helping you with your legal problem – this is called a contribution
- agree to sign a charge over any house or land you own or are buying to give us security over the amount we may spend on your legal assistance.
This will be explained in the letter.
Selecting your lawyer
If you don’t have a lawyer, we will allocate one according to who we think can help you best.
If you would like a particular lawyer to act for you, you can let us know on your application form. Your lawyer must be on one of our to act for you. There is a limited exception for some family law matters.
Paying your lawyer
Your lawyer is paid directly by us, and they are not allowed to ask you to pay any costs for services performed under your grant of legal assistance. If you do get a bill from your lawyer let us know immediately.
Disclaimer: The material in this print-out relates to the law as it applies in the state of Victoria. It is intended as a general guide only. Readers should not act on the basis of any material in this print-out without getting legal advice about their own particular situations. Victoria Legal Aid disclaims any liability howsoever caused to any person in respect of any action taken in reliance on the contents of the publication.
We help Victorians with their legal problems and represent those who need it most. Find legal answers, chat with us online, or call us. You can speak to us in English or ask for an interpreter. You can also find more legal information at www.legalaid.vic.gov.au
Reviewed 11 January 2023