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Government & legal system

Family/civil Legal Aid: For non-criminal cases

Repaying family/civil Legal Aid

If you’re granted family/civil Legal Aid you might have to pay a one-off $50 “user charge” and you might also have to repay some of your Legal Aid grant.

Legal Services Act 2011, ss 18, 18A, 20, 21, 40, Legal Services Regulations 2011, regs 9A, 9B

Usually you’ll have to pay a “user charge” directly to your lawyer, of $50 (including GST). In some cases this user charge doesn’t have to be paid, such as family/domestic violence, mental health, and Oranga Tamariki/care and protection cases.

You may also have to repay some of your Legal Aid to the government. This will depend on how much you earn, what property you own, whether you have a partner and dependent children, and how much your case costs. Legal Aid Services uses the financial information you give on your application form to work out whether you have to pay anything.

The letter notifying you that you’ve been granted Legal Aid will also tell you the maximum amount you may have to repay.

Legal Services Regulations 2011, regs 14, 14A

If you don’t pay your Legal Aid debt within six months after the debt amount is finalised at the end of your case, you’ll have to start paying interest on the outstanding debt.

Only about one quarter of all Legal Aid grants have to be repaid. If you’re on a benefit and don’t have any assets, you probably won’t have to pay back any of your Legal Aid.

When and how do I make repayments?

Legal Services Act 2011, ss 18, 20, 34, 36

You can be required to make repayments in different ways. You might have to pay in more than one way.

The different ways to pay are:

  • through regular payments (instalments) made weekly, fortnightly or monthly
  • as a lump sum, either out of your savings or when you sell your house or other property
  • from any money or property you win out of your case.

If Legal Aid Services decide you can afford to make regular payments, you’ll probably have to start them straightaway. These are called “interim repayments”. If you miss a payment, your Legal Aid could be cancelled.

If you don’t make your Legal Aid repayments, money can be deducted directly from your wages, salary or benefit.

“Charges” on your property as security for the debt

Legal Services Act 2011, s 18(3)

If you own a house, car or other valuable property, Legal Aid Services can put a “charge” on this property, as security for your Legal Aid debt.

The charge means that if you sell the property, you’ll have to repay your Legal Aid debt out of the money you get from the sale. However, you can repay the debt at any time before then.

A charge will only be put on your property if your Legal Aid debt is more than $300.

No repayments required in family/domestic violence cases

Legal Services Act 2011, s 19

It’s unlikely you’ll have to repay any of your Legal Aid if you’re applying for a Protection Order under the Family Violence Act 2018 or any other kind of order under that Act.

But if your case also involves other issues – like care arrangements for your children – you may have to repay Legal Aid granted for those other issues.

Legal Aid is paid to your lawyer directly.

Do I have to pay anything to the lawyer?

Legal Services Act 2011, ss 18A, 105

Apart from the $50 user charge that applies in most family or civil cases, your Legal Aid lawyer isn’t allowed to take any money directly from you. If they try to charge you more, you should tell Legal Aid Services at the Ministry of Justice.

What if I think the amount I have to repay is unfair?

Legal Services Act 2011, ss 51, 52

If you’re not happy with your total repayment amount or the interim repayment amount, you can ask Legal Aid Services to reconsider the decision. If that doesn’t change the decision, you can appeal to the Legal Aid Tribunal. For more information, see “Appealing to the Legal Aid Tribunal” below.

Legal Services Act 2011, ss 42, 43

You could also ask Legal Aid Services to change your repayment amount or repayment plan. They can decide to write off or to not enforce some or all of the repayment debt if having to pay would cause you serious financial difficulties (“serious hardship”). They can also do this if the cost of enforcing the repayment would probably be more than the amount that’s likely to be repaid, or if for other reasons they think writing it off would be fair (“just and equitable”).

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Legal Aid and other legal help

Where to go for more support

Community Law

www.communitylaw.org.nz

Your local Community Law Centre can give you free initial legal advice, help you apply for Legal Aid and find a Legal Aid lawyer, and may be able to provide ongoing legal help, depending on your situation.

Find a family lawyer

www.familylaw.org.nz/public/find_a_lawyer

This New Zealand Law Society website will help you find a family lawyer in your local area.

Find a Legal Aid lawyer

www.justice.govt.nz/find-a-legal-aid-lawyer

This is an online database of Legal Aid lawyers.

Public Defence Service

www.pds.govt.nz

This website provides information about the Public Defence Service. They can represent defendants in criminal cases where Legal Aid has been granted.

Ministry of Justice

www.justice.govt.nz/courts/going-to-court/legal-aid

Information about Legal Aid and other legal assistance schemes. Legal Aid forms are also available online.

Applying for Legal Aid

www.justice.govt.nz/courts/going-to-court/legal-aid/contact-legal-aid

This page has the Legal Aid forms in PDR versions that you can download and email to Legal Aid.

Phone: 0800 253 425

Legal Aid Tribunal

www.justice.govt.nz/Tribunals/legal-aid/legal-aid-Tribunal

Information about the Legal Aid Tribunal including what types of decisions that can be reviewed, how to apply and what type of information you need to provide.

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