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Communtity Law Manual | Legal aid | Repayments of civil/family legal aid

Civil/family legal aid

Repayments of civil/family legal aid

Legal Services Act 2011, ss 10, 18, 18A, 20, 21, 40, 105, 114

Probably. People who receive civil/family legal aid may have to pay a one-off “user charge” and may also have to repay some of their legal aid grant.

User charge

Legal Services Act 2011, s 18A; Legal Services Regulations 2011, regs 9A, 9B

Applicants must pay a $50 user charge for civil and family legal aid grants. The charge only applies if the legal aid application is approved. A legal aid lawyer can refuse to provide services if the user charge is not paid.

However, the charge does not have to be paid for some kinds of legal aid application:

  • claims on behalf of a group of Māori in the Waitangi Tribunal
  • personal protection issues (such as family/domestic violence, protection of personal property rights, compulsory treatment or compulsory care and historical abuse claims against the government)
  • applications by a victim (for example for a Parole Board hearing at which a victim is appearing)
  • refugee cases in the Immigration and Protection Tribunal.

Repaying the grant

A grant of civil/family legal aid may be subject to the condition that the applicant has to repay some of the grant. The amount of the repayment is based on the following factors:

  • the applicant’s income and capital
  • whether they are single or not
  • whether they have dependent children
  • the value of any proceeds from the case
  • the cost of the legal services provided.

Applicants may also have to make interim repayments. The Legal Services Commissioner can require the applicant to start making interim repayments at any time after legal aid has been granted. If the applicant misses a repayment, the legal aid may be cancelled. If the applicant is not making their repayments, they may also be prevented from receiving legal aid for future civil and family proceedings until they start repaying their existing debt.

The commissioner may also require that the grant of civil/family legal aid be subject to the condition that a charge be put over particular property owned by the applicant, such as their house or car. This means that if the applicant sells the property, the commissioner will recover payment out of the money from the sale. The applicant will also have to repay the costs of registering the charge over their property.

If the applicant is successful in their case, there will be a charge over any money or property awarded in the case.

Legal aid is paid to the lawyer directly, and the lawyer is not entitled to take payments from the applicant for any work that is covered by legal aid.

Applicants will also have to pay interest on all outstanding legal aid debt (though there is a six-month interest free period once the debt has been finalised at the end of a case). If you owe a legal aid debt, you can apply to have the debt (including interest) written off (see below, “What can I do if I think the amount I have to repay is unreasonable?”).

Notices to deduct payments from income or bank accounts

Legal aid debtors who are not making their repayments may have deduction notices placed on their income, benefit, bank account or compensation.

Note: The Legal Services Commissioner must tell the applicant whether they will have to repay any of the legal aid at the same time as telling them whether legal aid has been granted.

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

Legal Services Act 2011, ss 51, 52

If the applicant believes that the required repayment is unreasonable, they can ask the Legal Services Commissioner to reconsider the decision. If that doesn’t change the decision, they can then appeal to the Legal Aid Tribunal. (See below for further information.)

Legal Services Act 2011, ss 42, 43

Applicants can also ask the Legal Services Commissioner to write off or not enforce some or all of any amount they have been required to pay (including interest), or to release a charge on their property. The commissioner may do this in the following circumstances:

  • if the enforcement of the debt would, in the commissioner’s opinion, cause serious hardship to the aided person
  • if the cost to the commissioner of enforcing the debt is likely to exceed the amount of the debt that is likely to be repaid
  • if the commissioner considers that it would be fair to write off the debt.
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