Woman settles action against Legal Aid Board over social welfare payments

Woman settles action against Legal Aid Board over social welfare payments

A woman who wants to bring family law proceedings against her allegedly violent former partner has settled her High Court challenge over the Legal Aid Board’s refusal to fund her action.

The mother-of-two, who is reliant on social welfare payments, had claimed that her application for legal aid was turned down because she is in receipt of the housing assistance payment (HAP).

That payment was classified in her application to the Board as income and took her above the threshold to qualify for legal aid. She claimed the decision was wrong and breached her rights.

Her judicial review proceedings against the Board, where the Minister for Justice was a notice party, has now been settled.

The settlement arose after the Department of Justice announced last month that HAP and housing support measures will now be excluded from the calculation of entitlement to legal aid.

The woman had secured support to bring her challenge to the High Court in January with support from Community Law & Mediation (CLM).

In a statement, CLM chief executive Rose Wall welcomed both the settlement and the Department’s decision to change the criteria used to calculate legal aid.

She said the new policy “will bring great relief to many people who, like our client, may be dealing with family situations, domestic violence in the home or who may be experiencing discrimination at work, but who can’t afford to pay for legal representation of their own”.

“The change to the eligibility criteria is effective immediately so we are actively encouraging people who had previously been refused legal aid because of their housing support payment to reapply,” she said.

Ms Wall added that the service also welcomes plans by the Department of Justice “to review the civil legal aid scheme” and hope that this moment will now be seized to undertake other urgent reforms needed to break down barriers which place access to justice beyond the reach of many”.

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