Applying for Legal Aid

If you need ongoing help from a lawyer we may be able to help you fund your case. We do this by giving grants of legal assistance to people who can't afford a lawyer.  To get a grant of legal assistance, you will need to complete an application form. 

A grant of legal assistance is money used to pay a Legal Aid ACT or private lawyer to help you with your legal problem. A lawyer can:

  • give you legal advice
  • help you reach agreement or resolve a dispute with someone
  • prepare legal documents
  • speak for you in court.

Legal Aid ACT uses means and merits tests to make the decision about who gets a grant of legal assistance. This means that we will look at:

  • your ability to pay for legal fees
  • the likelihood of your case succeeding
  • the benefit you might gain in the case compared to the cost of us providing assistance
  • what your case is about. 

The application form is to help us figure out your ability to pay legal fees using an income and assets test, the strength of your case and any other factors or circumstances that may be important. We consider all of the information provided. 

If you are unsure about whether you are eligible, it is still strongly recommended that you apply. 

See the guidelines for more detailed information. We also have two factsheets available for download titled Applying for a Grant of Assistance and Filling out the Form - Applying for a Grant of Assistance Guide

How can I apply?

To apply you must complete the application form. You can find a copy of the Application for Legal Assistance form at:

  • Legal Aid ACT: 2 Allsop Street, Canberra City; or
  • By email, post or fax. Please Contact us

Who can help me fill out the application form?

Legal Aid ACT staff can help you fill out an application form for free. If you want help to fill out an application form Contact us. We also have a Guide that can help you fill out the form titled Filling out the Form - Applying for a Grant of Assistance Guide

If you have an appointment to receive help in filling out the application form, you must bring to your appointment:

  • Proof of income e.g. two recent payslips or Centrelink Reference Number (CRN);
  • Copies of bank records or statements showing balances in all bank accounts owned solely or jointly by you and transactions on those accounts for the past three months;
  • Copy of charge sheets and statement of facts from the DPP (if you have a criminal law matter); and
  • Any current court order or other documents relating to your legal matter.

Important: If you have a financially associated person you must also bring with you the same financial information for the financially associated person. A financially associated person includes any person who provides you with financial support, or who you provide financial support to or who is likely to financially assist you to obtain legal services. A financially associated person may include a relative, partner, spouse, corporation, trust, group, etc.

How do we work out who gets a grant?

Grants are generally for criminal or family matters, but can be for some civil cases, such as social security, mental health, victims of crime compensation, debt negotiation, some personal injury cases, and discrimination matters.

We have clear rules about who can get a grant. We look at:

  • your ability to pay for legal fees
  • the likelihood of your case succeeding
  • the benefit you might gain in the case compared to the cost of us providing assistance
  • what your case is about. 

We also look at whether you financially support anyone else, or whether they financially support you. These people are called financially associated persons. Their income and assets are also included when we work out if you get a grant.

How long does it take to get a grant?

We aim to make a decision on each application within ten working days of receiving an application with all the required documents. This ten working days timeframe only applies to applications that have all of the essential documents attached and no missing information. 

This means that if your application is missing information, does not contain the necessary supporting documents or has other errors we will be unable to make a decision within this timeframe. If there is a problem with your application we will send you a letter by email or post.

It is very important that the email and postal address written on the application form is correct and regularly checked. If your situation changes, let us know so that we can update your contact details. 

Can I appeal a decision?

Yes. If we refuse your application for a grant of legal assistance you can appeal the decision. You can also appeal:

  • the grant conditions
  • a decision to stop or change the grant
  • the amount of the legal assistance.

If your application is refused, you can ask for it to be considered again. Requests must be made in writing within 28 days of receiving the letter with the decision. 

You may also request an independent review if you are still not happy with the result. The request must be made in writing within 28 days or receiving the letter with the result of the reconsideration. 

It is better that you make a request for review as early as possible within the 28 day period so that we can make a decision quickly. 

If I get a grant, is it free?

Not always. The amount you may have to pay depends on your financial situation and is worked out from your financial details. You may be asked to pay a contribution.The amount is set out in the letter granting assistance.

The usual contribution amount is $120. The contribution can be made either in a single payment or through installments from your Centrelink benefits (if you receive any). If you have trouble paying a contribution, talk to your lawyer or let Legal Aid ACT know. If you are suffering severe financial hardship, it is possible for the contribution amount to be waived. This means that you will not need to pay any amount.

Some legal matters are exempt from a requirement that you pay a contribution, including Family Violence matters. 

Your contribution may also be reassessed if your financial position changes during or at the end of your case, or the financial information on which it was originally assessed was wrong or incomplete. A reassessed contribution can be up to 100% of the full cost of providing legal assistance. It is very important that you fill out the application form honestly and to the best of your ability.

If you realise that there has been a mistake on the form after sending it in to Legal Aid ACT, you must Contact us.

Is there a limit to the amount I can get?

Yes, there are limits on the amount of legal assistance you can be given. If you get a grant of legal assistance we will let you know what this limit is. You can also ask your lawyer.

It is important that you understand these limits. If the amount granted runs out and the case is not finished, you may have to finish your case without our assistance. You can ask us how much grant money you have left at any stage.

What costs aren't covered by a grant of assistance?

The grant of legal assistance does not cover costs for work done by your lawyer before the grant begins, if you have first used a private lawyer. The starting date for your grant can be found in the letter from Legal Aid ACT stating that your application has been successful.

If the court makes any orders for you to pay legal costs including for the other party, called costs orders, it will usually be your responsibility to pay this amount. Legal Aid ACT will only consider a request to pay costs orders in very limited situations. 

What are the conditions of a grant?

The general conditions of a grant of legal assistance are:

YOUR OBLIGATIONS

  1. If you are required to pay an initial contribution, this must be paid to your lawyer at your first appointment.
  2. We may reassess the amount of your contribution and increase it.
  3. If your lawyer receives any money on your behalf, they must keep sufficient aside to pay us any contribution that you owe. Contributions are payable on demand. If you are having difficulty paying your contribution, you may ask us if you can pay it by installments.
  4. If you or anyone on whom you depend for financial support owns any land (e.g. a house or unit) we may make it a condition of the grant of legal assistance that we take a charge over that land to secure payment of your contribution.
  5. You must notify us immediately if there is any change in your financial sitution, or if you change address.
  6. If you do not accept your lawyer's advice, your grant of legal assistance may be stopped.
  7. You must get our approval before you change your lawyer. IF you want to change your laywer we may require you to pay any additional costs that result from the change.
  8. The documents we hold concerning your grant of legal assistance will be destroyed seven years after the grant is completed, unless you ask us to make other arrangements.

YOUR RIGHTS OF REVIEW

  1. If you are not satisfied with a decision we make, you may request a reconsideration. The request may be made in writing within 28 days of the receiving notice of the decision. If you are not satisfied with the result of the reconsideration, you may request an independent review of the decision. The request for review must be made in writing within 28 days of notification of the result of the reconsideration.

YOUR LAWYER'S OBLIGATIONS

  1. Your lawyer has been authorised by us to do the work described in the grant of assistance up to the commitment limit set in the grant. If more work needs to be done your lawyer must ask us to extend the grant of assistance.
  2. Your laywer must not ask you to pay anything towards the cost of the work covered by the grant of assistance, other than your contribution.
  3. Your lawyer must give us reports on the progress of your case, and details of any offsers to settle the case. As your case progresses, your lawyer must provide a report on the outcomes reached, and an account setting out the work they have done and the cost of that work.
  4. Your lawyer must make their file available to us if we ask to see it.

There may also be special conditions that are explained in the letter you get from Legal Aid ACT if you get a grant.

How does my lawyer get paid?

We pay your lawyer directly. It is an offence for your lawyer to ask you to pay any costs for legal aid work. If you get a bill from your lawyer Contact us immediately.

Can I choose my own lawyer?

When you apply for a grant of assistance you may ask us to assign your case to a particular lawyer. This could be a Legal Aid ACT lawyer, or a lawyer in private practice who handles Legal Aid work. Whether we refer your case to your lawyer of choice may depend on the type of case, the availability of that lawyer, and what we believe will be the most efficient use of limited legal aid funds.

Legal Aid ACT lawyers specialize in certain types of cases, and in these cases it will often be a more efficient to appoint one of our lawyers to represent you. In other cases, or where we cannot act due to conflict of interest, we will assign the case to a private lawyer.

If we decide to assign your case to a private lawyer, we will appoint your lawyer of choice, provided that lawyer is willing to handle the case. If you have no preference for a particular lawyer, we will select a private lawyer from our General Panel to handle your case.

Client and Lawyer Relationship

There are several aspects to a client and lawyer relationship.

Lawyers owe their clients a duty of loyalty to act in the utmost good faith in the interests of their clients and to carry out by all proper means their client's instructions.

Another important aspect of the relationship is confidentiality. This means that all the information you give to a lawyer is private and will only be disclosed with your consent or as required by law. For more information see FOI & Privacy

Your lawyer should act on your instructions, unless it is illegal, unethical or unreasonable do so. Your lawyer should also keep you informed of important developments in your case.

It is always in a client's best interest to be truthful and provide their lawyer with all information relevant to their case so the lawyer can provide the correct advice for a particular case.

You should also bear in mind that in addition to duties owed to their clients, lawyers also owe duties to the law, and to the courts. For example, lawyers must not assist a client to break the law, or knowingly mislead a court about the facts of a case.

What you can do to help us

Legal Aid ACT aims to provide service that is professional, efficient and responsive to your needs. However, to work efficiently in your best interests we need you to provide us with accurate information. We ask that you provide correct, up to date information and notify us if:

  • your financial position changes;
  • you move house, or change your postal address; or
  • if you are aware of further details which could assist the lawyer with their case.

It is also helpful if you:

  • co-operate in keeping appointments or tell us in advance if you cannot make your appointment;
  • bring all documents that are relevant to your legal problem to your appointments, eg, court summonses, other court documents and contracts;
  • make every effort to quickly pay your contribution towards your grant of legal assistance, and
  • understand and accept the conditions of your grant of legal assistance.