Victoria Legal Aid Handbook for Lawyers

Commonly asked questions about the means test

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Commonly asked questions about assessment

What is ATLAS?

We use a computer program called ATLAS to make decisions about legal assistance. If an applicant meets the eligibility criteria, then generally this will be automatically accepted in ATLAS.

If an applicant doesn’t meet the criteria, but thinks they should, they can ask us to exercise discretion on their legal aid application.

After ATLAS advises the outcome of the application, an applicant can also request that this decision is reconsidered by a Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) officer.

Who decides whether someone meets the means test?

VLA has authorised decision makers to make decisions about:

  • whether an applicant qualifies for a grant under the means test and, if so,
  • the amount of any contribution they will need to pay towards their legal costs.

An applicant’s lawyer is not a VLA authorised decision maker and does not decide if they meet the means test.

An applicant’s lawyer is responsible for keeping a copy of any supporting documentation provided.

What happens if an applicant meets the income test but not the assets test (or vice versa)?

An applicant (and if relevant, their partner) must qualify under both the income test and the assets test to meet the means test. An applicant can request discretion if their application does not satisfy either or both tests.

What happens if an applicant does not meet the means test, but doesn’t have the time to organise a lawyer on their own?

An applicant may need assistance for their legal problem before they can raise funds in time to pay for a lawyer. Where that happens, we will generally provide a grant, but the assisted person will be expected to pay for the full cost of the grant. This is generally still less than if they had paid for a lawyer directly.

How does VLA treat people with other potential sources of funds?

If we think that that an applicant can pay for a lawyer privately, we may refuse to give them a grant.

This can be where an applicant may be able to redraw on their property, or they have told us that someone can lend them money.

Commonly asked questions about an applicant’s income, expenses and assets

How are suburbs and towns of Victoria classified as metro, outer-metro and regional?

We rely on data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and the Real Estate Institute of Victoria (REIV) to classify postcodes as either metro, outer-metro or regional.

For a complete list of the classifications, use the Weekly housing costs (xlsx, 22 KB) spreadsheet.

What if it is not clear who owns an asset?

Where the ownership of an asset is in dispute, we will exclude the value of this asset from calculations until it is resolved.

Where the proportion of assets owned is in dispute, in the absence of further information, we will assume an equal share of all those who claim an interest.

What is equity?

Equity is the difference between the current market value of the real property minus any debt (or other claim) that is owed over the property such as a mortgage. An applicant’s equity is their share of the property after any of these debts have been deducted.

Can an assisted person sell or re-finance their property if VLA has a caveat over the property?

We will generally require an assisted person to pay their contribution in full at the time of settlement.

What if a person has property which has been restrained or confiscated?

Property restrained under state legislation

A person whose property has been restrained under the Confiscation Act 1997External Link may apply for a grant. However, VLA will take the restrained assets into account when assessing means and generally refuse to make a grant.

In these circumstances the person may:

  • apply to the same court which made the original restraining order for a variation of the order, or
  • apply to the court to make an order, under section 143(1) of the Confiscation Act 1997, that we provide the person with legal assistance.

If you make an application to the court you must serve a copy of the notice and application on VLA and the OPP at least seven days before the application is to be heard.

If a court has made an order for variation of the original restraining order or an order under section 143(1) of the Confiscation Act 1997External Link , the person’s lawyer must immediately give us an authenticated copy of the order.

The lawyer must keep on their case file copies of both:

  • the affidavit material in support of the application to the court, and
  • the order made by the court.

After we receives the order of the court, we will comply with the order.

Property restrained or confiscated under Commonwealth legislation

In calculating the value of a person’s assets, we will disregard any property of the person which has been restrained or confiscated under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Cth)External Link if the person is applying for a grant of legal assistance for either:

  • a Commonwealth criminal law matter
  • a Commonwealth civil proceeding under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

The cost of making a grant of legal assistance for such a matter will be reimbursed to us in accordance with sections 293 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Cth).

Commonly asked questions about supporting documentation

What happens when a grant is urgently needed and the person can’t obtain supporting documentation in time?

If an urgent grant is required, we do not require immediate supporting documentation to be on file.

An assisted person must give the supporting documentation to their lawyer within 14 days of applying for the grant.

When may additional documents be requested?

We might ask an applicant (and, if relevant, their partner) for more documents at any time. We are likely to do this if:

  • their lifestyle is not consistent with their financial position
  • there is a dispute over how much their assets are worth, or
  • someone has helped pay for their legal costs before.

What kind of additional documents?

We can ask for any type of financial documents that we need to confirm an applicant’s financial position, and this can include:

  • tax returns and assessments
  • bank passbooks or statements
  • annual company or trust returns
  • rates certificates for the current year
  • proof of payments of rent or mortgage instalments
  • statutory declarations about their financial position
  • statutory declarations from other people that support them financially.

We may also ask an applicant to let us contact banks, employers or accountants that have financial information about them.

How long is supporting documentation valid for?

The documents provided when an application for a grant is made is generally valid for 12 months. Any documents that expire, like a Centrelink card, are only valid until that date.

If an assisted person’s financial position changes at any time that they have a grant, they need to tell us.

Reviewed 21 February 2022

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