Legislation regarding financial eligibility and contributions
Applicants ask from time to time why items such as hospital bills, utility bills, and other household expenses cannot be included in the financial assessment and/or determination of contributions.
The reason for this (which we point out in our standard refusal letter) is that the financial assessment is governed in general terms by the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995 as passed by the Oireachtas and in more specific terms by the Civil Legal Aid Regulations 1996-2017, made by the Minister under the Act. It is not within the Board’s power to go beyond these regulations or vary them in any specific case.
Civil Legal Aid Act 1995
The following sections of the Act are relevant to financial assessments and contributions:-
Section 29 sets out the statutory basis for financial eligibility and contributions and provides that:-
- a person must satisfy the financial eligibility requirements;
- pay a contribution by reference to disposable income and, where appropriate, disposable capital;
- if the costs of providing legal aid or advice are likely to be increased unnecessarily by the behaviour of the applicant, the contribution may be increased; and
- an applicant who reduces income or capital resources for the purposes of qualifying for legal aid or advice, will have those resources taken into account.
Section 26(3) (b) provides that persons “shall qualify for legal advice free of any contribution” for certain “rape” and sexual assault cases. Legal advice is also granted free of any contribution to potential victims of human trafficking who have been referred to the Board by the Garda National Immigration Bureau.
Section 28(5), (5A), (5B), and (5C) require that the Board grants legal aid certificates to a person without a means test in certain cases: child abduction, cases under the Maintenance Act 1994, to a complainant in certain sexual offence cases, to an otherwise unrepresented accused in certain criminal cases who is prevented from personally cross-examining a complainant (notwithstanding that such a person was entitled to apply for criminal legal aid), and to a complainant or witness in circumstances where there is an application for the release of counselling records.
Civil Legal Aid Regulations 1996-2017
The following Regulations are relevant to financial assessments and contributions:-
- Regulation 13 Financial eligibility and contributions towards the cost of services
- Regulation 14 Assessment of income and capital
- Regulation 15 Income
- Regulation 16 Disposable income
- Regulation 17 Maximum income contribution
- Regulation 18 Capital
- Regulation 19 Disposable capital.
- Regulation 20 Capital contribution
- Regulation 21 Contributions by persons in receipt of legal services
The Civil Legal Aid Regulations 2013 came into force on 16th September 2013 and contained a number of significant amendments to the Civil Legal Aid Regulations 1996-2006 in relation to means testing. The principal changes in the 2013 Regulations were:
- applicants in childcare cases pay no contribution, provided that they are financially eligible for legal services
- the disposable capital threshold was reduced to €100,000
- asylum seekers applying in connection with an application for international protection pay a total contribution of €10
- The minimum advice contribution was increased to €30 and the minimum aid contribution was increased to €130 (this includes the advice contribution of €30).
All aid contributions in excess of the minimum (that is to say, where an applicant’s disposable income is between €11,500 and €18,000) were increased by €80 over what they would have been calculated at under the 2006 Regulations.
- The 2013 Regulations also provided for a number of other changes to the means assessment which had been already implemented by the Board on an administrative basis, such as the exclusion of certain social welfare payments from the definition of income and the granting of allowances for USC and the public service pension levy.
The Civil Legal Aid Regulations 2016 came into force on 23rd May 2016 and provided for applicants to the Abhaile scheme to be provided with legal services without having to undergo a financial assessment or pay a contribution. See Chapter 13.
The Civil Legal Aid Regulations 2017 came into force on 1st January 2018 and provide for applicants in connection with domestic violence proceedings in the District Court or on appeal to the Circuit Court to be provided with legal services without having to pay a contribution.