Legal Aid WA aims to create equitable access to justice to support a fair and safe community. Our mission is to assist the community by providing quality and timely legal help to those who need it. This requires us to make decisions about how we fund legal services, including making grants of aid.
Applications for a grant of aid are normally decided based on three tests, which help to balance the competing demands on our resources:
- The matter test – is the legal problem from an eligible or priority category for legal assistance?
- The means test – based on the applicant's income and assets, how much are they able to pay for a lawyer?
- The merits test – given the circumstances of the case (including its chance of success if relevant), is it appropriate that we pay for a lawyer?
More detail about how we decide which cases can receive a grant of aid is available in the Resources below.
The matter test
The matter test looks at the type of legal problem and the surrounding situation. The guidelines say what matters are eligible for legal funding and their priority compared to other legal problems. There a different guidelines for matters involving WA laws or Commonwealth laws. For some matters, an applicant may be unable to get a grant of aid unless their situation is complex, urgent, or involves a history or risk of family violence or child abuse. In other cases, a person might only be eligible for a grant of aid if they have special circumstances as described in the guidelines.
All practitioners on a Legal Aid WA panel or list must take account of the grants guidelines when applying for a grant of aid.
The means test
All Legal Aid Commissions use the National Means Test to determine if a person is financially eligible for a grant of legal aid, or whether they can afford to hire their own lawyer. The means test looks at the income and assets of the applicant and anyone else who gives them financial support. The thresholds and allowances included in the means test are based on national economic and social data.
The income threshold
The income threshold looks at whether or not a person can afford the full cost of hiring a private lawyer, taking into account what legal services they will need, how long the matter will take, and how much spare income the person could put aside over that period.
Spare income is calculated by comparing the allowable assessable income to the person’s actual income after allowances for outgoings are deducted. Allowances include the costs of supporting dependents, childcare, spousal maintenance, child support, and mortgage/rent payments.
A person is eligible for a grant of aid if the calculated spare income will not be enough to meet the full cost of hiring a private lawyer. If a person has some capacity to pay from their spare income, a contribution will normally be imposed.
The asset threshold
The asset threshold measures the amount of equity in assets (for example, property, motor vehicles or savings) that a person is allowed to have before they are ineligible for a grant of aid. Different allowances are made for the value of the main home, depending on where it is located (metropolitan area, northern WA, southern WA), to reflect different cost of living factors in those areas.
Applicants are allowed a certain amount of equity in property before becoming ineligible for a grant of aid. Where there is some equity below the threshold amount, a contribution from the applicant to be secured against the property will normally be imposed.
The merits test
Broadly speaking, the merits test asks if it is reasonable in all the circumstances for Legal Aid WA to provide legal assistance to a person. This includes thinking about whether or not:
- there are reasonable chances of achieving a favourable outcome
- there are reasonable alternatives to achieve that result without legal assistance
- a sensible person would use their own financial resources to pay for legal assistance, and
- it is an appropriate use of the limited public resources of Legal Aid WA.
Eligibility Guidelines for State Matters
Guidelines on what state matters can obtain a grant of aid.
Priority Guidelines for State Matters
Explains the different priorities given to state matters.
National Commonwealth Legal Aid Guidelines
Guidelines for assessing applications for legal aid involving Commonwealth matters.
Reviewed: 17 April 2018