Better and fairer access to legal assistance

Hon Kiri Allan

Ministry of Justice

Raising eligibility thresholds will provide a boost to more than 90,000 New Zealanders currently without access to legal aid, Justice Minister Kiri Allan has said.

“The government is committed to enacting legislative changes to strengthen our legal aid system.

“Embracing changes in legislation and regulations is necessary to give effect to budget decisions and will help sustain the legal aid system, ensuring better access to justice for thousands of people who otherwise would not have can’t afford a lawyer.

“Our legal aid system is an important part of the New Zealand justice system.

However, it has come under severe strain in recent years, with parameters largely unchanged since 2011 and the number of people eligible for legal aid falling, and expected to continue falling.

“Concerns have rightly been raised about the low eligibility threshold – for a single claimant it is currently just over half of what a full-time minimum wage worker receives – the fees $50 usage, debt repayment and interest on legal aid grants.

“To address these issues, we are implementing changes in the Legal Services Regulations 2011 and the Legal Services Act 2011giving effect to $148.7 million in funding in Budget 2022.

The changes are:

  • increasing the income eligibility thresholds by 15% from 1 January 2023, allowing 93,000 additional people to be eligible for civil and family legal aid in the first year,
  • the elimination of legal aid user fees, payable by most recipients of civil and family legal aid,
  • elimination of interest on the repayment of unpaid legal debt,
  • increasing debt repayment thresholds by 16.5% for debt established from 1 January 2023, relieving financial pressures for around 16,000 low-income and vulnerable New Zealanders, and
  • increasing the civil and family legal aid eligibility thresholds and the debt repayment thresholds by an additional 1.9% per year with the last increase on July 1, 2025.

“We know how frightening the court process can be for people, especially when faced with unnecessary hurdles. These changes will mean real help for those who need legal assistance,” said Kiri Allan.

A 12% increase in the hourly rate for legal aid lawyers came into effect on July 1.

Media contact: Julie Jacobson 021 806 085

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