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Your Guide to applying for Legal Aid
Written by: Natasha Poppen
The thought of going to Court over your legal matter may frighten you because of the high costs associated with using the legal system. Thankfully, Victoria offers grants of assistance in the form of Victoria Legal Aid to people who need it. If you’re curious about what Legal Aid is and whether you qualify, this blog covers everything you need to know.
What is Legal Aid?
Legal Aid is an Australian organisation that advocates for equal access to the legal system and justice. They aim to help people who are economically or socially disadvantaged with their legal issues, commonly in the form of funding. Aid is usually reserved for family or criminal law matters. If your application is successful, Victoria Legal Aid will fund a lawyer to represent your legal matter.
Contrary to popular belief, legal assistance is not always free. Depending on your financial situation, you may have to pay a lump sum or pay monthly instalments to Victoria Legal Aid, and the organisation may set limits on the amount it spends on a case. A grant from Legal Aid may pay for some or all of the work by your lawyer, inclusive of legal advice, preparing legal documents and representation in court. Keep in mind, your lawyer cannot ask you to pay any costs for work done under a grant of legal assistance.
Do I qualify for Legal Aid?
Victoria Legal Aid applications are designed to thoroughly examine whether you can afford to pay for a lawyer, based on your financial position. This is based on the evidence you provide regarding your income, assets and expenses. They also look at whether you receive financial support from anyone else in your life. Additional factors that are considered include welfare benefits received, if you own a house or car, your living expenses and whether you have any dependents (i.e. children). If you have an urgent family or criminal law matter and have proven significant financial difficulty, you are likely to qualify for legal aid. Victoria Legal Aid tends to reserve their funding for those who need it most. Those with a large disposable income who provide no evidence of financial or social constraints are unlikely to qualify for legal aid.
If you are found to be eligible for legal aid, you will receive a letter explaining the assistance that will be paid for, any conditions imposed on you, your obligations, your lawyer’s details, when your assistance commences and your rights if you would like to appeal.
How do I apply?
Legal Aid applications can be quite detailed and confusing to someone who hasn’t completed one before and doesn’t have a thorough understanding of what guidelines their case applies to. Emma Swiatlo from Knight Family Lawyers states that her firm sends their clients a form to complete, and when they’ve received it back, their lawyers fill it out electronically on the client’s behalf. Emma says “we take all the hard work out of the legal aid process, so our clients don’t have to stress.”
How long do legal aid applications take to process?
In the experience of Knight Family Lawyers, urgent applications (such as recovery orders, cases of abuse or family violence) can be processed and received within one day. For all other types of applications, it can take between three to seven business days.
What other services does Victoria Legal Aid offer?
Victoria Legal Aid free legal services include:
- information over the phone
- a public law library
- publications and workshops
- legal advice
- lawyers on duty at many courts and tribunals