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Government & legal system

Family/civil Legal Aid: For non-criminal cases

Repaying Legal Aid

Legal Services Act 2011, ss 23, 28

It depends on your case, and your Legal Aid lawyer’s level of experience.

Legal Aid Services will usually give you a limit – for example, the maximum number of hours that your lawyer can spend on your case.

If your lawyer needs to do more work than the grant allows for, you may be able to apply for and be granted more Legal Aid.

Do I have to pay anything to my lawyer?

Legal Services Act 2011, ss 18A, 105

Your Legal Aid grant will be paid to your lawyer directly. Your Legal Aid lawyer isn’t allowed to take any money directly from you for work that’s covered by the Legal Aid grant. If they try to charge you more, you should tell Legal Aid Services (see: “Where to go for more support” below).

Legal Services Act 2011, ss 18-21, 40, 105 Legal Services Regulations 2011, regs 9A, 9B, 10-12, Schedule 1, Schedule 2

If you’ve been granted Legal Aid (for either criminal or family/civil cases) you might have to pay some of it back. You’ll be told about this in the same letter that tells you you’ve been granted Legal Aid.

The letter notifying you that you’ve been granted Legal Aid will also tell you the maximum amount you may have to repay (the “prescribed repayable amount”). This is usually a very high sum – in most cases, your lawyer won’t max out that amount. Your lawyer should be mindful of costs and will usually offer you options to go down cheaper routes (which usually involves avoiding court as much as possible).

The amount that you have to pay back is worked out using a complicated formula set out in the Legal Services Act and the Legal Services Regulations. Legal Aid Services will use the financial information you gave them on your application form to work out how much you have to pay back. In particular, they’ll look at:

  • your income and your assets
  • whether you’re single or have a partner
  • whether you have dependent children
  • how much your case will cost.

Note: 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.

No repayments required in family/domestic violence cases

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.

If your case also involves other issues – like care arrangements for your children – you might have to repay Legal Aid granted for those other issues. You could ask Legal Aid Services to write off these repayments based on the fact that they originated from a family/domestic violence case (see: “What can I do if I think the amount I have to repay is unreasonable?” below).

How do I make repayments?

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

You can be required to make repayments in different ways, including automatic payments made weekly, fortnightly, or monthly. Usually, your repayments will be set at a starting out rate of roughly $10 per week. You could also make your repayment as a lump sum (for example, from any money that you win from your case).

Usually, you’ll have to start making your repayments once your case has concluded, unless Legal Aid Services decide that you can afford to start making payments straightaway (called “interim repayments”). You’ll be told when you need to start making repayments in the letter from Legal Aid Services.

If you own a house, car or other significant property, a “charge” may be put on it, as security for your Legal Aid debt. This means that if you sell the property, Legal Aid Services will be able to recover your Legal Aid debt from the money you get from the sale (unless you’ve already paid off the debt). You might also have to repay the administrative costs of registering the charge.

What happens if I don’t keep up with my repayments?

If you don’t keep up with the repayment plan, there are a few ways Legal Aid Services can try to recover the debt including:

  • forwarding it to a debt collecting agency
  • deducting the debt directly from your wages, salary, or benefit
  • cancelling your Legal Aid.

If you’ve missed any payments, you probably won’t be able to access Legal Aid again later. If that’s the case, you should try set up a new repayment plan.

What can I do if I think the amount I have to repay is unreasonable?

Legal Services Act 2011, ss  42, 43, 51, 52

In this case you can ask Legal Aid Services to reconsider. If they don’t change the decision, you can appeal to the Legal Aid Tribunal (see: “Challenging a Legal Aid decision”).

You can also ask Legal Aid Services to write off or not enforce some or all of the repayment amount, or to cancel (“release”) a charge they’ve put on some of your house, car, or other property.

They can do this if:

  • enforcing the debt would cause you serious financial difficulties (“serious hardship”)
  • the cost to them of enforcing the debt would probably be more than the amount that you’re likely to repay
  • you’ve had a significant change in your financial situation from when you applied for Legal Aid
  • for any other reason that they think writing it off would be fair (“just and equitable”) – for example, see: “No repayments required in family/domestic violence cases” above.

Note: Legal Aid Services no longer charge interest on unpaid Legal Aid costs. If you were charged interest on your Legal Aid repayments, you should apply to have this written off.

Did this answer your question?

Legal Aid and other legal help

Where to go for more support

Community Law

Your local Community Law Centre can provide you with free initial legal advice on how legal aid works, whether you might be eligible for the service, and the next steps.

Find your local Community Law Centre online: www.communitylaw.org.nz/our-law-centres

Information on legal aid

See the Ministry of Justice website for more information about how legal aid and other legal assistance schemes work.

Website: www.justice.govt.nz/courts/going-to-court/legal-aid
Phone:  0800 253 425

Find a Legal Aid lawyer

Use the New Zealand Law Society website to help you find a family lawyer in your local area.

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

Public Defence Service

The Public Defence Service represents defendants in criminal cases where legal aid has been granted.

Website: www.pds.govt.nz 

Find a family lawyer

Use the New Zealand Law Society website to help you find a family lawyer in your local area.

Website: www.familylaw.org.nz/public/find-a-lawyer

Applying for Legal Aid

You can download the relevant legal aid application form from the Ministry of Justice website.

Application for family or civil legal aid: www.justice.govt.nz/assets/Family-civil-legal-aid-application-191222.pdf
Application for criminal legal aid: www.justice.govt.nz/assets/Documents/Forms/Criminal-Legal-Aid-Application-191223.pdf

Reviewing a legal aid decision

The Ministry of Justice website provides information on how to ask the Legal Aid Commissioner to reconsider the original decision, and how to apply to the Legal Aid Tribunal to review the Commissioner’s decision.

Applying to the Legal Aid Commissioner: www.justice.govt.nz/courts/going-to-court/legal-aid/ask-for-a-review-of-a-legal-aid-decision/ 
Applying to the Legal Aid Tribunal: www.justice.govt.nz/Tribunals/legal-aid/legal-aid-Tribunal  

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