Victorian Legal Aid has lifted its disposable income threshold to better reflect the rising cost of living, the first major adjustment to the eligibility criteria in more than a decade.
The threshold has been lifted from $255 per week to $360 and means many more Victorians will be able to access the service, the ABC reported.
“We identified there were a number of changes we could make immediately to make the means test fairer, because we do know that people have been missing out on Legal Aid where they otherwise need it,” legal practice executive director Kirsten Hilton said.
“These are people who are too poor to afford their own lawyer but haven't been able to qualify for Legal Aid.
“Last year we saw 85,000 unique clients over a range of services, 120,000 phone calls to our legal information service.”
A financial shortfall was blamed for the length of time taken for Legal Aid to increase the threshold, many people requiring the service not able to access it due to lack of funding to meet the demand.
“We've changed the way we deliver a number of our services, so we're providing more preventative services, more legal information and education, more duty lawyer services at court,” Hilton said.
“This has meant we've been able to reinvest in some more intense legal services.”
She told the ABC that more funding is still needed to provide the best possible support.
“These are changes that in the short term we can certainly afford to make. We can't make larger changes and increase our eligibility unless there is an investment by both state and Commonwealth governments,” she said.
“We've seen funding erode over a number of years. Only recently the productivity commission stated the legal assistance sector needed $200 million investment to ensure people who really need legal assistance are able to get it.”