The Legal Aid Board recently announced a change in its interpretation of the Civil Legal Aid Regulations 1996. Under the Board’s revised guidelines, no housing support measure provided by any public body shall be treated as income for the purpose of means testing.
Until recently, payments received under HAP would form part of the Board’s income assessment. This meant that HAP recipients may not have been eligible for legal aid despite their earnings being below the income threshold. The practice raised significant concerns around access to the courts in civil matters. Moreover, it risked discriminating against those who need state support for housing but who are unable to avail of social housing due to inadequate supply.
This change in eligibility guidelines is a vital development in equal access to justice. It will ensure life changing legal advice and representation will not be denied to those of modest means simply because they are in receipt of HAP.
Developments on the horizon
A Private Member’s Bill currently before the Seanad has received the backing of Government parties and is seeking to amend the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995 to formally disregard HAP for income assessment purposes, mirroring the policy change.
Separately, the Department of Justice has committed to conduct a broader review of the Civil Legal Aid Scheme in Q3 2021. Mercy Law will be closely following developments in this area and will give further updates on this important review in future publications.