12 – Means test

12 – Means test

VLA assesses both the income and the value of the assets of a person applying for a grant of legal assistance (and those of any financially associated person). VLA then estimates the costs of the legal services the person requires.

Depending on the person’s (and any financially associated person’s) income, value of their assets, allowable deductions and the estimated legal costs, VLA will then decide (using Table 1, Table 2 and Table 3):

  • whether the person applying for a grant of legal assistance (or any financially associated person) can afford to pay the full cost of the legal services themselves
  • whether VLA will make a grant of legal assistance and if VLA will require the person to pay a contribution towards their legal costs
    or
  • whether VLA will make a grant of legal assistance and not require the person to pay any contribution at all.

What is the purpose of the means test?

VLA uses the means test to:

  • assess the financial situation of most people who apply for a grant of legal assistance
  • decide whether a person can afford the full costs of the legal services from a private lawyer.

VLA may make an initial grant of legal assistance (and any further assistance or additional assistance) to a person only if VLA considers that the person is unable to afford the full costs themselves.

There are some people that VLA may make a grant of legal assistance to without requiring them to satisfy the means test. See: People the means test does not apply to.

Assessing whether a person should contribute financially to their legal costs

If VLA does make a grant of legal assistance to a person, the means test is also used to:

  • decide whether VLA will require the person to financially contribute to the legal costs of their case
    and
  • decide the amount of any financial contribution the person will need to pay.

See: Contributions for more information.

If a grant of legal assistance is made without applying the means test, VLA will not require the person to make any financial contribution to their legal costs. See: People the means test does not apply to.

What is assessed in the means test?

When assessing whether a person qualifies for a grant of legal assistance under the means test, VLA considers:

  • the income of the person applying for a legal grant of assistance (including the income of any financially associated person)
  • the assets of the person applying for a grant of legal assistance (including the assets of any financially associated person)
    and
  • the estimated cost of obtaining the legal services from a private lawyer.

Both the income test and the asset test must be satisfied

The person applying for a grant of legal assistance must qualify under both the income test and the assets test in order to satisfy VLA’s means test.

If a person qualifies under both the income and assets tests, and the total contribution amount exceeds the estimated cost of legal services, VLA may not make a grant of legal assistance.

Who decides whether a person meets the means test?

VLA’s Legal Practice decides:

  • whether a person qualifies for a grant of legal assistance under the means test
    and, if so
  • the amount of any contribution the person should pay towards their legal costs.

The lawyer that the person applies for a grant of legal assistance through never makes a decision about whether that person qualifies for a grant of legal assistance under the means test.

Limited discretion if the contribution exceeds estimated legal costs

VLA may grant assistance if the applicant's contribution exceeds estimated legal costs but there is insufficient time for an applicant to raise the funds (including borrowing the money) necessary to pay for a private lawyer.

VLA may grant assistance subject to later payment of a contribution.

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