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Annual Report 2015 - 2016

Our policies help to narrow the ‘justice gap’

In 2015–2016, Legal Aid NSW amended some policies to increase eligibility for our services to those who most need legal assistance.

Changes to the Legal Aid NSW means test make more appropriate allowance for living expenses, especially for applicants from struggling working families. Raising the income threshold and allowable assets under the means test narrows the ‘justice gap’ as more people become eligible for legal aid.

OBJECTIVE Access to justice

Changes to our eligibility policies—allowable income and cash assets

We introduced changes to the means test in August 2015 and January 2016 that raised the threshold for income and allowable deductions. We also increased the allowable cash assets.

The allowable income after deductions is now $400 per week, up from $385. Child care deductions increased from $250 to $325. The allowable cash assets for single people and families were also increased. For a single person the amount increased from $1,310 to $2,800 and for families it was increased from $2,638 to $4,200. The following stories explain how the means test works for two different household types:

  • Ben and Jane—Household income of $107,000
    Ben and Jane are married with three young children. Ben works full time as a teacher earning $75,000 ($1,107 per week after tax); Jane works 30 hours a week in market research earning $32,000 per year ($552 per week after tax).They also receive a small amount of Family Tax Benefit Part A.

    Ben and Jane live in Kogarah, paying $500 per week rent for a three bedroom house. Their other main expense is child care: with one child in full time day care and the older two in after school care. Total net child care costs are $360 per week.

    With a combined income of $107,000, Ben and Jane satisfy the Legal Aid NSW income test. With their only assets being a 2011 Subaru worth $18,000 and savings of around $4,000, Ben or Jane will be eligible for a grant of aid with an initial contribution of $565.
  • Ankica—Single mother earning $80,000
    Ankica is single and supports her two children from her salary of $80,000 ($1,170 per week after tax), plus child support payments of $115 per week. She also receives Family Tax Benefit Part A and Part B.

    Living in Armidale, it costs Ankica $320 per week to rent a house. One of the children is in full time long day care, and the other in out of school hours care, costing Ankica a total of $330 per week. With a modest car and $4,000 in the bank, Ankica satisfies the means test, with an initial contribution of $1,150.

Changes to employment policy

We expanded the eligibility criteria for employment matters by introducing a new test called the Social Disadvantage Test. The new test looks at financial and personal vulnerability and targets vulnerable and socially disadvantaged workers.

  • Petra—Financially vulnerable factory worker
    Petra, a 48-year-old factory worker, is paid the minimum hourly wage, has three children and pays rent. She was employed for nine years in a small business. Petra injured her back at work. Her employer advised her not to lodge a workers compensation claim. She needed to take time off to manage the recurring pain. While on sick leave, she received a note from her employer stating that he accepted her resignation. The notice backdated Petra’s ‘resignation’ by 24 days (the time limit under the Fair Work Act 2009 for filing dismissal claims is 21 days).

    Financially vulnerable due to her disability, risk of long term unemployment and unstable housing she was a person at social disadvantage. We assisted Petra to lodge a general protections claim with the Fair Work Commission and helped her to reach a confidential financial settlement with her employer.

Icon for The year aheadThe year ahead

  • Target policies to meet the legal needs of the most disadvantaged people across New South Wales, in a challenging funding environment.
  • Review client eligibility policies to ensure they are current, accessible and consistent with our corporate objectives; and as part of this, ensure legal aid services are available to people who are at risk of or experiencing domestic and family violence.