SunLive – Better and fairer access to legal assistance
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 program 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 to fall.
“Concerns have rightly been raised about the low eligibility threshold – for a single claimant this is currently just over half of what a full-time minimum wage worker receives – user fees for $50 debt repayment and interest on legal aid grants.
“To address these issues, we are implementing amendments to the Legal Services Regulations 2011 and the Legal Services Act 2011, giving effect to $148.7 million in funding in Budget 2022.”
The changes are:
- increasing income eligibility thresholds by 15% starting January 1, 2023, making an additional 93,000 people eligible for civil and family legal aid in the first year,
- remove legal aid user fees, payable by most civil and family legal aid recipients, remove interest on repayment of unpaid legal debt, increase debt repayment thresholds by 16, 5% for debt established from 1 January 2023, easing financial pressures for around 16,000 low-income and vulnerable New Zealanders, and increasing eligibility thresholds for civil and family legal aid and thresholds for debt repayment of 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 in need of legal assistance,” says Allan.
A 12% increase in the hourly rate for legal aid lawyers took effect July 1.