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Annual Report 2019 - 2020

Providing services to those who need them the most

To ensure access to justice for those most in need, we reviewed and amended our policies.

Our eligibility policies help us ensure that our limited resources are directed to areas of most legal need. We made changes to our policies in response to emerging demand in certain areas of law.

A new service type – Early Resolution Assistance

We introduced a new service type called Early Resolution Assistance (ERA), which is:

  • legal representation provided to a person participating in an established, independent dispute resolution process
  • available to applicants who satisfy the eligibility criteria, and
  • available for disputes which can be resolved quickly and cost-effectively.

This will be achieved through more streamlined application and administration processes.

The focus on early intervention is particularly important in family law matters. Providing representation through ERA rather than under a grant of aid treats family dispute resolution as a discrete service that provides finality, rather than a required step along the path to litigation.

ERA is subject to means and merit tests. We will evaluate the effectiveness of ERA in the next financial year.

Property mediation pilot

As part of the Commonwealth Government’s Women’s Economic Security Statement, all legal aid commissions were funded to administer the Commonwealth Property Mediation Pilot to help separating couples use mediation to divide a small amount of property.

We are conducting this pilot over two years and aim to assist 100 families. Our policies are targeting people who have experienced domestic and family violence, people with disabilities, and people who have cultural issues that may affect their ability to negotiate a reasonable property settlement. Eligibility for the pilot includes meeting the Early Resolution Assistance means and merit tests.

The pilot will be evaluated by the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Improving access to legal aid for people experiencing elder abuse

As part of the Legal Aid NSW Elder Abuse Strategy, we conducted a comprehensive review of the client eligibility policies to address barriers in accessing legal services for people who are experiencing, or at risk of, elder abuse.

We made several changes including amendments to the means test and to the family and civil law policies which address these barriers. We trained our staff, partners and community workers to ensure awareness of eligibility for people experiencing elder abuse.

Changes to our Contributions Policy

We implemented changes to the Contributions Policy in July 2019. The changes included expanding the discretions available to directors, exempting child support and Centrelink back payments from contributions, and waiving the initial $75 contribution for people in custody.

The changes mean the Contributions Policy better aligns with the Legal Aid NSW Client Service Strategy and supports an efficient grants administration process.

A more flexible Forum Test

Legal aid commissions across Australia apply a Forum Test to determine which legal aid commission is responsible for assessing an application for legal aid and for funding the grant.

A Cross-Border Justice Report commissioned by Legal Aid NSW and Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) found some vulnerable people living in border regions of NSW and Victoria were facing barriers when seeking timely legal assistance for their family law matters. Legal Aid NSW and VLA commenced a trial of a more flexible approach to the Forum Test to ensure vulnerable clients living in the border regions of NSW and Victoria are represented in family law proceedings.

Expanding our work under extended legal assistance

Extended legal assistance (ELA) was introduced as a new service type in 2017–2018 with the aim of achieving early legal resolution for people with multiple legal problems, or vulnerable people who have legal problems in priority areas of law.

In July 2019, we expanded the matters conducted as an ELA service to include State Parole Authority and Serious Offenders Review Council matters. ELA funding is available where the applicant satisfies the ELA means and merit tests.

Year ahead iconThe year ahead

  • We will undertake a review of the allowable deductions and excluded assets under our means test to ensure these thresholds properly reflect the cost of living in 2021.
  • We will implement changes to the Family Law Property Policy which will ensure applicants who are experiencing, or are at risk of domestic and family violence, can access grants of legal aid for their property settlement matters.
  • We will implement policy changes approved by the Board that will remove the barriers Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face in accessing legal aid services.
  • We will continue to ensure our eligibility policies are targeted to disadvantaged people who require legal assistance.