What is a contribution?
Subject to guidelines and merits, if the means test shows that a person’s (and any financially associated person’s) income, value of their assets and allowable deductions is less than the estimated legal costs, Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) will usually make a grant of legal assistance. However, if the person (and any financially associated person’s) income and the value of their assets is above a certain amount, it may be a condition of the grant of legal assistance that the assisted person makes a financial contribution towards the costs of assistance.
How are contributions paid?
If required, an initial contribution is calculated as part of the means test. VLA may ask an assisted person to pay regular instalments, or may be required as an upfront lump sum, depending on the person’s financial situation.
The contribution amount may not be certain until the matter is finalised
If a person accepts a grant of legal assistance which includes a condition that they pay a contribution, the amount of the contribution may not be certain until:
- after their matter has been finalised
- VLA knows the total legal costs.
See: Final contributions.
How does VLA calculate any initial contribution payable?
An initial contribution is an amount of money required as payment towards the costs of legal assistance. It is calculated according to a person's financial circumstances at the time of applying for a grant of legal assistance (as dertermined by the income test and the assets test) or throughout the course of a grant of legal assistance.
VLA may ask for an initial contribution in the form of regular instalments or a lump sum payment, or a combination of both.
Principles guiding VLA’s assessment of financial contributions
VLA uses two principles to guide its calculations of financial contributions:
- An assisted person should be put in a position which is equal to, but not better than, the position of a person who is not legally assisted.
- An assisted person should contribute to their legal costs according to their ability to pay, without undue hardship.
If the total contribution amount is less than the estimated legal costs
If the total amount of contribution calculated using Table 2 and Table 3 is less than the estimated legal costs, VLA will usually make a grant of legal assistance. This is because the calculation shows that the person is unable to afford the full cost of the legal services privately.
If the total contribution amount is more than the estimated legal costs
However, in some cases (usually in criminal matters), a grant of legal assistance may be made if the person applying does not have enough time to raise the necessary funds (including borrowing the money). In this case, VLA usually requires the person to pay a contribution at a later stage.
Other rules about contributions
VLA has a number of other rules about contributions, these are:
- that VLA will tell the assisted person about:
- how much the person owes on their assessed contribution, whenever the person requests this information
- how the person must pay the contribution
- the time period in which the person must pay the contribution.
- that VLA will not allow the person to pay a contribution by instalments over more than five years, unless the contribution is secured by a charge or an irrevocable authority
- that VLA will give the person a copy of their assigned lawyer’s account if the person requests it, although VLA will make the final decision about the amount to be paid to the lawyer
- that VLA may charge the person interest on unpaid contributions.
See Charge or other security over an assisted person’s property for further discussion.