195. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if a housing assistance payment is assessed as means when eligibility for free legal aid is being examined; his views on an applicant being denied free legal aid in cases in which their HAP takes them over the income limit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38400/19]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): The financial eligibility criteria for legal aid are set out in the Civil Legal Aid Regulations 1996 to 2017. The current position is that, in principle, all income received by an applicant for legal aid is liable to be treated as income. Any exceptions are specifically detailed in the Regulations. The Legal Aid Board has advised me that it gave careful consideration to the matter of HAP and concluded that it had to treat HAP as a form of income.
I am advised by the Legal Aid Board that some applicants are in receipt of significant HAP payments due to high rent levels, particularly in Dublin. This may affect applicants' financial eligibility for civil legal aid.
The Legal Aid Board has made a submission to my Department regarding financial eligibility for civil legal aid and advice generally. This includes a proposal on the treatment of HAP for financial eligibility purposes. This proposal is being examined by my Department. However, it should be borne in mind that any alterations to eligibility limits would have resourcing implications for the Board. Furthermore, any proposed changes to the rules pertaining to eligibility would not only require my approval but also the consent of my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.