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The Means Test

The Means Test

Most Legal Aid Queensland grants of legal assistance are provided subject to applicants meeting a means test.

The means test applies to the income and assets of each applicant. An applicant's income and assets includes the income and assets of any person who:

  • usually gives the applicant financial support
  • can be reasonably expected to give the applicant financial support, or
  • usually receives financial support from the applicant.

The means test considers each applicant's income and assets to determine whether:

  • the person can be given legal assistance without contribution
  • the person can be given legal assistance conditional upon a payment of an initial contribution towards the cost of the legal assistance, or
  • the person is ineligible for legal assistance.

Initial contributions may be levied on both income and assets. Where an applicant has both income and assets above the threshold for legal assistance without contribution, the initial contribution to be paid is the sum of the income and assets contributions.

The means test is/can be applied at any stage of the proceedings and applicants are required to keep Legal Aid Queensland advised of any change in their financial circumstances.

The means test for grants of legal assistance does not apply to:

  • information and advice services
  • duty lawyer services
  • when the applicant is a veteran or dependant of a veteran seeking assistance in relation to disability pension entitlement under Part II of the Veterans' Entitlement Act 1986
  • an applicant is seeking assistance in relation to an external merits review of a decision made by the National Disability Insurance Agency
  • when the applicant is seeking assistance in relation to preventing disclosure of counselling communications in criminal court or domestic violence proceedings
  • when the applicant is a child (aged 17 years or less)
  • the independent representation of children in family law proceedings
  • the separate representation of children in child protection proceedings.

Income Test

For the purpose of the means test, applicants are required to disclose income from all sources including:

  • salary and wages
  • investment income such as interest and share dividends
  • rent from investment properties
  • payments from trusts
  • income from an insurance claim such as accident, sickness or disability benefits
  • Centrelink benefits (including Family tax Benefit payments) and Defence Force or Veterans benefits
  • child support and child maintenance payments.

Applicants who rely on full Centrelink payments for their income are deemed to be eligible under the income test. All other applicants are required to provide their gross weekly income and the number of people who rely on that income for consideration in the income test.

Table 1 sets out the gross weekly income an applicant can receive and still be eligible for legal assistance and the amount of the contribution payable by an applicant towards the costs of providing legal assistance based upon that weekly income. If the amount of the contribution would be more than the value of their grant(s) of legal assistance, the application may be refused.

See the Legal Aid Queensland initial contributions table (table 1) on a single page.

 Table 1: Legal Aid Queensland initial contributions table

Household type

Work status

Number of children

Contribution free threshold gross income ($ per week)

Maximum income threshold gross income* ($ per week)

Client contribution

Contribution payable on gross income ($ per week) above:

695 750 855 950 955 1030 1150 1220 1355 1410 1550 1690 1845 2010

2200

Couple

Both in
workforce

0

855

1180 -

555

650

760

1020

1090

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

1

1030

1355

-    - -   -   610

670

905

1010

-

-

-

-

-

-

2

1220

1515

-

-

- -    -  -  - 660

740

990

-

-

-

-

-

3

1550

1690

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

630

720

-

-

-

4

1690

1880

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

565

980

-

-

5+

2010

2070

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

1320

-

Couple

One in
workforce

0

855

1200

-

-

400

555

670

760

980

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

1

1030

1410

-

-

-

-

-

515

575

670

885

1010

-

-

-

-

-

2

1220

1550

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

410

565

650

740

-

-

-

-

3

1550

1810

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

535

630

-

-

-

4

1690

2015

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

410

885

1400

-

5+

2010

2200

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

970

1485

Single
person/
sole
parent

In
workforce

0

695

1040

545

750

760

855

1165

1275

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

1

855

1210

-

-

465

555

650

760

1020

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

2

1030

1410

-

-

-

-

-

515

610

670

905

1010

-

-

-

-

-

3

1220

1610

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

565

660

740

990

-

-

-

-

4

1410

1810

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

390

535

630

-

-

-

5+

1690

2010

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

410

565

980

-

See the Legal Aid Queensland initial contributions table (table 1) on a single page.

*Legal assistance is not normally granted where an applicant's income exceeds the maximum income threshold.

Assets Test

Assets taken into account in the assets test include:

  • real estate (houses, land)
  • cash
  • vehicles
  • shares
  • debentures or other investments
  • the assets of any person who helps an applicant financially, unless an applicant needs legal aid because they are in a dispute with that person.

Assets exempt from the assets test are:

  • the first $146,000 of equity of an applicant's house
  • the first $146,000 of cash an applicant has saved to buy a home or the first $146,000 of equity of land an applicant owns provided:
    • the applicant signed a contract to buy or build a home before they knew about their legal problem
  • household furniture unless it is exceptionally valuable
  • tools the applicant needs for their job unless they are exceptionally valuable
  • the first $16,000 of equity in an applicant's car or cars
  • the first $2,000 of an applicant's savings.

If an applicant is 60 years or over, they can have equity in their home up to $292,000 if they:

  • receive an income tested allowance or benefit, and
  • have lived in their home for five years or more, or moved out of their home or bought an alternative home because of disability or illness.

If an applicant is a farmer or a small business owner, they can have equity in the farm or small business up to the following limits:

  • If they are a homeowner and get financial help from another person - up to $236,500. If they do not get financial help from another person - up to $166,750.
  • If they do not own their home and they get financial help from another person - up to $357,500. If they do not get financial help from another person - up to $287,750.

A homeowner is a person who owns or is paying off the house they live in.

If the applicant is seeking legal assistance for a family law property settlement or domestic violence matter the applicant may have an interest of up to $200,000 in allowable assets (detailed in Commonwealth Family Law Guideline 12 - Property) which are in dispute with the other party.

An applicant may not be eligible for legal assistance or may have to pay some money towards the costs of providing legal assistance if:

  • They are single and have no dependent children and their assessable assets are more than $930, or
  • They receive financial help from another person or are single with dependent children and their assessable assets are more than $1,880.

Table 2 sets out the contribution payable by an applicant towards the costs of providing their legal assistance based upon the value of their assessable assets. If the amount of the contribution would be more than the value of their grant/s of aid, the application may be refused.

Table 2: Asset contribution table

Net asset Contribution
$100 20
$200 45
$300 65
$400 85
$500 105
$600 140
$700 170
$800 205
$900 235
$1000 265
$1100 310
$1200 355
$1300 395
$1400 440
$1500 480
$1600 535
$1700 590
$1800 640
$1900 695
$2000 750
$2100 810
$2200 875
$2300 940
$2400 1005
$2500 1070
$2600 1135
$2700 1195
$2800 1260
$2900 1325
$3000 1390
$3100 1485
$3200 1580
>$3200 $ for $*

*Legal assistance will not be approved if the contribution the applicant would have to pay is more than the value of their grant(s) of legal assistance.

Means Test Special Circumstances Guidelines

Special consideration may be given to applicants who experience multiple disadvantages where their assets exceed the limit set out in the means test.

The Guidelines apply where:

  1. The applicant's assets exceed the limit set in the means test, but because of their special circumstances, they are unable to access their assets
  2. The applicant has access to a modest amount of money in the bank, but because of their special circumstances, taking this money into consideration when assessing financial eligibility for aid is not justified, or
  3. The applicant owns substantial assets (other than cash) that exceed the means test limit but they have no prospect of being employed in the future because of their special circumstances.

Applicants who have legal assistance approved under these guidelines may have to:

  • Pay a contribution towards the costs of providing the legal assistance which could be all or part of the legal costs incurred, and
  • Provide their property as security for payment to Legal Aid Queensland.

Lifestyle

If an applicant's lifestyle appears to be supported by or to have been enhanced wholly or partly by resources beyond those revealed in the application for legal aid which would normally preclude the granting of legal aid, this fact is considered as part of the review of the applicant's means. "Lifestyle" in this context means a usual style or standard of living with features which are above general community standards.

In the following cases, the application for legal aid must be considered in relation to "lifestyle" issues:

  • when an applicant appears to have the regular or customary use of assets which do not belong to the applicant
  • when an applicant appears to enjoy a standard of living which is higher than that which could be sustained by the applicant's financial resources alone
  • when an applicant appears to have arranged the applicant's financial affairs so as to divest the applicant of legal title to assets and/or income at a time when the applicant is involved in a legal matter or a legal matter is pending for which legal assistance is now sought which, if the applicant had not done so, would have made the applicant financially ineligible for legal aid
  • when an applicant appears to have received money and spent it at a time when the applicant was involved in a legal matter or a legal matter was pending for which legal assistance is now sought so relegating payment of the applicant's legal costs to a low priority.

In each of these cases, unless the applicant can provide a satisfactory explanation, the application may be refused.

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