Better and fairer access to legal assistance
Raising eligibility thresholds will provide a helping hand to more than 90,000 New Zealanders currently denied access to legal aid, Justice Minister Kiri Allan says.
“The Government is committed to driving through legislative changes to strengthen our legal aid system.
“Enshrining changes in legislation and regulations is necessary to give effect to Budget decisions and will help future-proof the legal aid system, ensuring improved access to justice for thousands of people who could not otherwise afford a lawyer.
“Our legal aid scheme is an important part of New Zealand's justice system.
However it has come under strain in recent years, with settings largely unchanged since 2011 and the number of people eligible for legal aid decreasing, and projected to continue falling.
“Concerns have rightly been raised about the low eligibility threshold – for a single applicant this is currently just over half of what a fulltime worker on the minimum wage receives – the $50 user charge, debt repayment and interest on legal aid grants.
“To address those issues we are implementing changes to the Legal Services Regulations 2011 and the Legal Services Act 2011, giving effect to $148.7m of funding in Budget 2022.
The changes are:
- increasing the income eligibility thresholds by 15% from 1 January 2023, making 93,000 more people eligible for civil and family legal aid in the first year,
- removing the legal aid user charge, payable by most civil and family legal aid recipients,
- removing interest on repayment of unpaid legal debt,
- increasing the debt repayment thresholds by 16.5% for debt established from 1 January 2023, relieving financial pressures for around 16,000 low-income and vulnerable New Zealanders, and
- increasing the civil and family legal aid eligibility thresholds and debt repayment thresholds by an additional 1.9% per year with the last increase on 1 July 2025.
“We know how scary the justice process can be for people, especially when they are facing unnecessary barriers. These changes will mean real help for those needing legal assistance,” Kiri Allan said.
A 12% increase in the hourly rate of legal aid lawyers came into effect 1 July