Civil Legal Advice and Legal Aid
The Legal Aid Board is responsible for the provision of civil legal aid and advice to those unable to pay for such services from their own resources.
Legal advice includes any oral or written advice provided by a solicitor or barrister.
As part of Abhaile, the national Mortgage Arrears Resolution Service, a new aid and advice scheme for people in serious mortgage arrears covers a certain amount of free legal aid and advice for eligible borrowers. Read more about this scheme.
Civil legal advice is any oral or written advice given to you by a solicitor or a barrister about how the law applies in civil matters. It can also include writing letters on your behalf or acting for you in negotiations with other people. Legal advice is provided by the Board's solicitors in their law centre network.
Legal advice may be given in relation to any legal matter with the exception of the following:
- A criminal law matter, unless the person seeking advice is a complainant in a sexual assault or rape case
- A matter that in the opinion of the Board could be dealt with by obtaining appropriate advice other than state-assisted legal advice.
The Board may decide to stop providing advice where it considers it is no longer reasonable to do so or that the person receiving the advice is no longer eligible because of his/her means to receive it.
In order to qualify for legal advice you must pass a means test. If your application is successful you will be asked to make a financial contribution. How much you pay will depend on your means.
If you are a complainant in a sexual assualt or rape case, you do not have to pass a means test or pay a contribution.
If the Board refuses to grant you legal advice, you may appeal the decision.
Legal aid means representation by a solicitor or barrister in civil proceedings in the District, Circuit, High and Supreme Courts. This means that you have engaged the Board to act on your behalf in the proceedings, including sending correspondence on your behalf, drafting court documents, giving advice, representation in court and all the background preparatory work required.
Generally, legal aid is provided by solicitors employed by the Board in its law centres. In certain family law matters, legal aid may be provided by a solicitor in private practice from a panel of solicitors which has been established by the Board.
Legal aid is available in relation to most civil matters. However, certain cases are excluded from the scope of civil legal aid.
In order to qualify for legal aid you must pass both a means test and a merit test. If you qualify for legal aid, you will have to make some contributions to the overall costs of the proceedings except for child-care cases. The Rates section below sets out the minimum and maximum contributions that may be made.
If the Board refuses to grant you legal aid, you may appeal the decision.
This is an initial test to ensure that your case is a legitimate one and that a reasonable person would take the case and would be advised to take the case. You will pass the merit test, if in the Board's opinion:
- You have as a matter of law reasonable grounds for instituting, defending or being a party to the proceedings for which legal aid is sought
- You are reasonably likely to be successful in the proceedings
- The proceedings for which legal aid is sought are the most satisfactory means of achieving the result sought by you
- Having regard to all the circumstances (including the probable cost to the Board, measured against the likely benefit to you), it is reasonable to grant the application
- Your case does not fall within the excluded areas
If the proceedings concern the welfare of a child including custody or access, factors 2 and 4 do not apply.
In order to qualify for either legal advice or legal aid, you must complete a means test form, which is available at all Legal Aid offices. The law setting out the means test regulations are SI 273/1996 Civil Legal Aid Regulations 1996, SI 8/2002 Civil Legal Aid Regulations 2002, SI 460/2006 Civil Legal Aid Regulations 2006 and SI 346/2013 Civil Legal Aid Regulations 2013.
The Legal Aid Board means test is different to the social welfare or Health Service Executive (HSE) means tests.
The time period of relevance is the year following your application. The Board will seek to estimate what your disposable income for that year will be. It may be necessary to consider your income for the last year in order to do so.
As well as having disposable income of less than €18,000, you must also have disposable capital of less than €100,000. Your family home is not considered when assessing disposable capital.
Disposable income is total income less deductible expenses including income tax, mortgage repayments, rent, social insurance contributions, interest on loans, child-minding expenses and other items.
All sources or income are considered by the Legal Aid Board and taken into account including income from a job, self-employment, pensions (both occupational and social welfare) investments, rental income, etc.
The value of benefits, privileges and perks that you enjoy will be taken into account. This includes free accommodation and/or board, and the value of a non-contributory pension scheme.
In the case of a married couple, the income of both is taken into account except
- where they are on opposing sides in the proposed action or
- they are separated and living apart.
Allowances and expenditure
Once the Board has estimated your annual income, it will then seek to calculate your disposable income by deducting the following allowances and expenditure.
- Spouse/partner - there is a deduction of €3,500 if you have a spouse/partner. (The spouse/partner has to be a dependant).
- Dependants - there is a deduction of €1,600 for each dependant. 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.
- Child care expenses up to a maximum of €6,000 per child.
- Accommodation costs up to a maximum of €8,000 per year.
- PRSI contributions are deducted in full.
- Income tax payments are deducted in full.
- Ex gratia payments received up to €1,040 in total.
All persons under 18 years and those over that age in full-time education are regarded as dependants of their parents, step-parents or guardians.
In those circumstances, the parents', step-parents' or guardians' income is taken into account if the young person is looking for legal services.
There are minimum contributions that must be paid except in cases of extreme hardship. However, the contribution that you must make depends on your disposable income for legal advice and your disposable income and disposable capital for legal aid. There is no contribution required in child-care cases, however, you still need to come within the disposable income and capital thresholds.
Legal advice: a minimum contribution of €30 must be paid where your disposable income is less than €11,500. If it is more, your contribution is one-tenth of the difference between €11,500 and your disposable income, up to a maximum of €150.
Legal aid: a minimum contribution of €130 must be paid where your disposable income is less than €11,500. If it is more, your contribution is €130 plus one-quarter of the difference between €11,500 and your disposable income. You must pay an additional contribution if your disposable capital is more than €4,000 as follows:
- Up to €54,000 your contribution is 2.5% of the difference between €4,000 and your disposable capital
- Over €54,000 your contribution is €1,250 plus 5% of the difference between €54,000 and your disposable capital
How to apply
If the legal matter in question is a marriage dispute and both spouses are eligible for legal aid, they should be represented by different law centres.
To find out whether you qualify for legal aid and/or advice, you should simply complete the Legal Aid Application Form (pdf) available in the law centres. You will give details about your income and your expenses on a confidential basis. The Board provides information on how to complete the form (pdf).
If your application is accepted, you will be asked to make a minimum contribution. If legal aid is necessary, the Board will issue you with a legal aid certificate.
There is a waiting time for an appointment with a solicitor. The maximum waiting time for an appointment with a solicitor is four months. However, the Board gives priority to certain categories of cases, such as domestic violence, child care, child abduction and cases where there is a danger that the time limits for issuing proceedings may expire.
Appealing a refusal
If your application for legal aid or legal advice is refused, you may appeal the decision.
The appeal is a two-step process;
- The decision maker will review his/her decision
- If you are still unsatisfied with his/her decision, you may appeal to the "appeal committee", which consists of the chairman and four members of the Board.
The decision of the appeal committee is final and unappealable.
Submit your written appeal through the law centre solicitor dealing with your application or send your written appeal directly to the Legal Aid Board.
Where to apply
The Legal Aid and Advice Service operates out of law centres staffed by qualified solicitors.