Civil legal aid and legal advice
What is civil legal aid and advice?
Legal advice includes any oral or written advice provided by a solicitor or barrister.
To get civil legal aid or advice, your disposable income must be less than €18,000 and your disposable assets must be less than €100,000.
As part of Abhaile, the national Mortgage Arrears Resolution Service, an aid and advice scheme for people in serious mortgage arrears covers a certain amount of free legal aid and advice for eligible borrowers.
Criminal legal aid
Civil legal aid and criminal legal aid are separate services.
The Legal Aid Board does not provide criminal legal aid, but does administer other criminal legal aid schemes.
What civil matters are covered?
Generally, legal aid and legal advice are available for most civil matters, other than those which are excluded by law.
Examples of civil disputes which can be covered by civil legal aid and advice include:
- Family disputes, including marriage breakdown and disputes involving children
- Actions taken by Tusla to take your child into care or supervise them in your home
- Breach of contract claims
- Disputes with your employer (unless the matter is before the Workplace Relations Commission or the Labour Court)
What is not covered by civil legal aid and advice?
You cannot get civil legal aid and advice for:
- Disputes concerning rights and interests over land
- Small claim cases
- Alcohol or club licensing
- Election petitions (where a person challenges the result of an election)
- Applications made in a representative, fiduciary or official capacity
- Group or class actions
- Criminal offences
However, there are exceptions to many of the above exclusions.
If you are unsure if your matter can be covered by civil legal aid and advice, you should contact your local law centre for further information.
Do I have to pay for civil legal aid and advice?
Most people have to pay a minimum contribution for seeing a solicitor and for being represented in court. If you feel that you cannot afford to pay your contribution, you can apply to have this cost waived.
Civil legal advice
If your disposable income is less than €11,500, you must pay a minimum contribution of €30 for legal advice.
If your disposable income is more than €11,500 but less than €18,000, you must pay a minimum contribution of one-tenth of the difference between €11,500 and your disposable income, up to a maximum of €150.
Civil legal aid
The minimum contribution you pay for legal aid depends on 2 parts:
- How much disposable income you have
- How much disposable capital you have
These figures are worked out separately and added together to give the total contribution you must pay.
Disposable income calculation
If your disposable income is less than €11,500, you pay a maximum contribution of €130.
If your disposable income is more than €11,500 and less than €18,000, you pay a maximum contribution of €130 plus one-quarter of the difference between €11,500 and your disposable income.
Disposable capital calculation
This applies only if your disposable capital is more than €4,000.
Disposable capital is the value of assets you own, such as a car or shares in a company. Your family home and tools you use for work are not included when calculating your disposable capital.
If your disposable capital is between €4,000 and €54,000, your maximum contribution is 2.5% of the difference between €4,000 and your disposable capital.
If your disposable capital is more than €54,000, your maximum contribution is €1,250 plus 5% of the difference between €54,000 and your disposable capital.
You can see an example of how a contribution is calculated on the Legal Aid Board website.
Paying back legal aid cost
You may need to pay back the cost of the legal aid if you gained or kept money or property because of the case. If you feel that this would cause you hardship, you can apply to the Legal Aid Board to have these costs waived.
Reduced or free fees for civil legal aid or advice
There are some circumstances where you do not need to pay a contribution, or you can pay a reduced contribution.
You may still need to meet the disposable income and capital thresholds.
Free legal aid or advice
You do not have to pay a contribution towards legal advice if you are:
- A victim in a sexual assault or a rape case, and the prosecution of the offence has started
- A victim of human trafficking and have been referred to the Legal Aid Board by the Garda National Immigration Bureau
- Involved in repossession proceedings and have been granted legal advice under the Abhaile scheme
You do not have to pay a contribution towards legal aid if you are:
- Taking or defending proceedings in the District Court for a barring order, safety order, interim barring order, emergency barring order or protection order (if the application for the domestic violence order is the only matter before the court)
- Defending an application by Tusla to take your children into foster care or to allow its staff to supervise your children in your own home
- The applicant in a child abduction or foreign maintenance case, you live outside Ireland, and you are seeking assistance through the Central Authority system
- A victim in certain rape and sexual assault cases and you require separate legal representation
- A debtor involved in personal insolvency arrangement proceedings receiving free legal representation under the Abhaile scheme
- Not represented in certain criminal proceedings and you are prevented from personally cross-examining a witness
- Making certain applications under the Assisted Decision Making Act and you either lack capacity or will shortly lack capacity, or you are a ward of court
If you are facing significant financial hardship and cannot afford to pay a contribution towards legal advice or legal aid, you can apply to the Legal Aid Board to have the contribution waived. If you want to apply for a waiver, you should speak to a member of staff in the Legal Aid Board Law Centre (see ‘Further information’ below).
It is not guaranteed that the contribution will be waived and the Legal Aid Board will only do this if they feel that paying the contribution would cause you undue hardship.
If your only income is a social welfare payment, the maximum you pay is €130 for legal aid, and €30 for legal advice.
If you are applying for legal aid to help you with a claim for asylum or subsidiary protection in Ireland, you only need to pay a contribution of €10. If you are in direct provision, you can apply to have this fee waived.
In most cases, you need to do a means test to check if you qualify for legal aid or advice.
To qualify, you must have:
- Disposable income of less than €18,000
- Disposable capital of less than €100,000 (not including the house you live in)
Your disposable income is calculated by deducting your total allowances from your total annual income (see ‘How disposable income is calculated’ below).
You can use the Legal Aid Board’s online Financial Eligibility Indicator to see if you are likely to pass a means test.
In the means test, the Legal Aid Board is estimating what your disposable income will be for the year after your application has been submitted. To do this, they may need to consider the income you received for the last year.
What income is included in the means test?
The Legal Aid Board considers most sources of income in the means test, including income from:
- Employment or self-employment
- Occupational and State pensions (contributory and non-contributory)
- Maintenance you receive
- Income from a child dependant over 18 who makes a financial contribution to the household
- Any schemes or further education and training allowances, like the Community Employment Scheme or a SOLAS course
- The value of benefits, privileges, and perks you may get such as a company car or free accommodation or board
In the case of spouses or cohabitants with a joint interest in proceedings, the income of both may be taken into account.
The following are not included in the means test:
- Housing support provided by a public body, such as HAP or Rent Allowance
- Some social welfare payments such as Child Benefit, Carer’s Allowance, Carer’s Benefit, Domiciliary Care Allowance, Foster Care Allowance or Guardians payment
How disposable income is calculated
Your disposable income is calculated by deducting your total allowances from your total annual income.
The allowances are set out in the table below.
Maximum amount which can be deducted per year
If you have a spouse or partner
If you have adult or child dependants*
€1,600 per dependant
Child care expenses
€6,000 per child
Ex gratia payments received
€20 for each payment received each week
* A dependant may be a child or step-child under 18, or over 18 and in full-time education, or a dependant relative or other person who lives with you and is supported by you.
Merit test for civil legal aid
If you need to go to court, the Legal Aid Board will look at the merits of your case to make sure that it is legitimate.
The merit test checks:
- Whether a reasonable person would take the case, if paying for it with their own money
- Whether a solicitor or barrister acting for you would recommend going to court, based on the facts of your case and knowing that you were paying for it yourself
- Whether you have grounds for taking the case, or defending the case being taken against you
- If this is the best way for you to resolve your dispute
- Whether you are likely to win your case
- The cost to the taxpayer against the benefit you might receive if you win
If the case is about the welfare of a child – such as child custody or the State trying to take your child into care – whether you are likely to win and the taxpayer cost are not considered in the merit test.
How to apply
You can apply for civil legal aid and advice through any of the following:
- Online on the Legal Aid Board website (you must live in the Republic of Ireland to apply online)
- By completing the Legal Aid Application Form (pdf) and returning it to your local law centre
You must submit documents with your application, including:
- A recent payslip or P21, if you work
- A recent social welfare receipt, if you are getting a social welfare payment
- Your most recent Notice of Assessment from Revenue or recent set of accounts, if you are self-employed
- Court applications or orders made in the last year related to the case
- Photo ID and proof of address, if your case has a financial or property element
If your application is accepted
If your application is accepted, you will be asked to make a minimum contribution (see ‘Do I have to pay for civil legal aid and advice?’ above).
If legal aid is necessary, you will be issued with a legal aid certificate.
There may be a waiting time for an appointment with a solicitor.
Some cases are given priority such as:
- Domestic violence
- Child abduction
Cases will also be prioritised if there is a danger that the time limits for issuing proceedings will expire.
If both parties to a dispute are eligible for legal aid (for example, a marriage or cohabitation breakdown), they will generally be represented by different law centres.
How to appeal if I am refused legal aid or advice?
If your application for legal aid or legal advice is refused, you can ask for a review, or you can appeal the decision.
You must ask for a review or appeal within one month of the decision.
You do not need to ask for a review before making an appeal. If you ask for a review and you are still unhappy with the decision, you can appeal that decision.
You can request a review through your solicitor or law centre staff, or by contacting the decision-maker directly.
Generally, you submit further information with the review application. If you do not submit new information, the review will be conducted by a different, more senior person.
You can make an appeal through your solicitor or law centre staff, or by contacting the Legal Aid Board head office.
The appeal will be considered by an appeal committee, which consists of the Chairperson and 4 other members of the Legal Aid Board (2 of whom must be practicing solicitors or barristers).
The decision of the appeal committee is final and unappealable.
You can read more about reviews and appeals of decisions.
Can I make a complaint?
If you have a complaint about a service you are getting from the Legal Aid Board, you can submit it to a Complaints Officer by:
- Email to email@example.com
- Post to Civil Operations, Legal Aid Board, 48-49 North Brunswick Street, Georges Lane, Dublin 7
You can read more about civil legal aid and advice on the Legal Aid Board website. You can also find information in other languages.
The Legal Aid and Advice Service operates out of law centres staffed by qualified solicitors.