New Regulations for Civil Legal Aid - Means Test Changed
1 September 2006
FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) the independent non-governmental organisation which campaigns for access to justice has today "broadly welcomed" the change in income limits and allowances to qualify for civil legal aid which the Department of Justice Equality & Law Reform has brought into effect from today. According to FLAC's Director General Noeline Blackwell "It is good to see an increase in the allowances for child care to €6,000 a child, which is far more realistic than previous limits. The fact that the family home will no longer be part of the calculation when legal aid limits are being assessed should mean that more people who need legal aid if they are to access justice should get it"
Blackwell pointed out that the disposable income limit to qualify has increased by just under 40% to €18,000, an acknowledgement that the previous limit was hopelessly outdated and had led to the exclusion of many deserving applicants over recent years.
In a major report on civil legal aid in 2005, FLAC had highlighted that many who need civil legal aid to access justice were denied it because even those with very modest income and assets could not come within the state appointed limits. These had been unchanged since 2002, although the cost of living - particularly child care and property costs had increased enormously. Blackwell went on to say that the new regulations were "disappointing" because "in a time of rising rent and mortgage costs, only €8,000 a year was being allowed for accommodation costs although very many people on modest incomes pay much more for their basic shelter needs"
While Blackwell welcomed the introduction of more realistic limits, she said that FLAC was asking the Department of Justice Equality & Law Reform, and on the Legal Aid Board to keep the revised means test under review. "Unless the changes allow those who need it to get legal aid to access justice, they will be insufficient. It will be important that the changes be publicised. It will also be important to ensure that the Legal Aid Board has the resources it needs to deal effectively with those who will now qualify under the new arrangements."