Pro bono legal assistance in the Netherlands


If you are in a foreign country, you are more likely to be the victim of a scam, as you might not know the rules, laws and / or your rights. For example, you rented an apartment for a full price and after check-out your (former) landlord “finds” all kinds of flaws and refuses to return your deposit. What happens when you can’t afford legal help? How does pro bono assistance work in the Netherlands? Mr. Berendsen Explain.

When are you entitled to pro bono assistance in the Netherlands?

In the Netherlands, pro bono, like everything else, is regulated by law. It is universal, which means it applies to anyone, anywhere in the world, as long as you have an issue for which legal remedy exists in that country.

You benefit from subsidized legal aid if your income was (very) modest two years ago and if you had no taxable assets. If you benefit from subsidized legal aid, you only pay a contribution (between 152 and 848 euros, depending on your income). If your gross annual income from the qualifying year was over 28,600 euros (singles) or 40,400 euros (family), you are not eligible.

No income in Holland two years ago?

But what if you had no income in this country two years ago, because you did not live there (yet)? As we said, pro bono law applies universally, so it doesn’t matter where you got the income.

However, the idea behind the “qualifying year” is that the tax collection office knows your taxable income and assets and can report these income and assets to the Legal Aid Board. This, of course, applies to income and assets registered in that country only.

If you had income and assets outside the Netherlands two years ago, you can still apply by filling out a form. In this case, the qualifying year changes to the current year. The Legal Aid Board now needs to know from you what income and assets you have had during the current year, and it needs some form of proof (such as payslips or tax documents from the legal aid). ‘foreigner).

Sudden change in income

What if your income suddenly drops? You may not qualify because you had a good job until recently, but you have lost your income (which may be the reason why you need subsidized legal aid). In this case, you can benefit from a revision on the basis of the current fiscal year.

The rule is this: If your income for the current year is down 15% or more from your income two years ago, you may be allowed to make such a review. You will need to fill out a form and submit evidence. The same goes for your wealth: you may have had a taxable estate two years ago, but you no longer have it.

Do all notaries (attorneys / attorneys) offer pro bono assistance?

No. Participation is voluntary. Partly due to underfunding, more and more lawyers have chosen to leave the pro bono system. So much so that the parliament took the initiative to force the government to take corrective measures. Some small steps have been taken or are in preparation. It remains to be seen whether this is sufficient.

In the meantime, you should discuss pro bono carefully before hiring a lawyer. Lawyers in this country are bound by a code of conduct, which requires them to discuss whether you can seek pro bono assistance, even if they do not participate themselves. The easiest way is to find a notary who participates (see below).

If I win my case, doesn’t my opponent need to pay?

The short answer: no. In many countries, the winning party gets a judgment in which their opponent is ordered to compensate legal fees (or procedural costs), but it rarely covers the actual costs of legal aid.

The reason for this difference between the actual costs and the costs awarded is the basis of the rule of law: fair play. The system for awarding costs is based on the interests at stake and takes into account that anyone who participates in the company must accept that they may be involved in legal proceedings from time to time and accept that such proceedings may cost money.


The gap between paying a lawyer alone and pro bono can be huge. This is why some notaries offer special rates for people who are not eligible for subsidized legal aid but who cannot afford the hourly rates usually requested by notaries. In addition, you may find special rates for specific issues, for example “rent deposit collection” or an employment or rental contract analysis.

How to find a good lawyer in the Netherlands

Whether or not you qualify for subsidized legal aid, you need to find a good lawyer. Your best source is the Dutch Bar website, where you can filter by specialization and distance. The third step of the web application is important: tick “affiliated with a specialization association” and, if you benefit from subsidized legal aid, also tick this box.

M. Berendsen Lawyer introduced discounts for people whose income just exceeds the limits for qualifying pro bono. You will benefit from a 25 to 75% discount if your income is less than 42,000 euros (singles) or 60,000 euros (family). Mr. Berendsen is also proposing a special flat rate specifically for the collection of wrongly withheld deposits.

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