How does it work?
Legal Aid South Africa has a mandate from the South African Constitution to help the poor get tax-funded legal assistance. It is important that we make sure the people we help need our assistance the most.
If you ask us for legal assistance we will ask you to complete a form so we can understand how much money you earn each month and what things you own, like a car or house. This is called the Means Test. A Legal Aid South Africa official is always available to help you fill this form in.
Legal aid for individuals
If you are employed, you must earn less than R7,400.00 per month after tax has been taken off.
Legal aid for households
If you live with other people for more than 4 nights per week, and these other people share in the cost of food and other costs, then we will look at your total household income. We will only give legal aid to households that earn less than R8,000.00 per month. Again, we will only look at the amount that the household receives after tax has been taken off.
We also take into account what you own
If you or your household:
- Own a house, then the total value of the house and all your belongings must not be worth more than R640,000.00. You must also only have the one house and you must live in it.
- Do not own a house, then the total value of all your belongings (for example, your car, furniture, clothes and other personal things) must not be worth more than R128,000.00.
In criminal cases, children automatically qualify for legal aid and do not have to take the Means Test. If it is a civil case, the family of the child will need to take and pass the Means Test.
Legal aid for non-citizens
Legal aid is available to anyone who lives in South Africa (not only South African citizens) if the case:
- is criminal
- involves children
- involves asylum seekers – legal aid is available to asylum seekers applying or intending to apply for asylum under Chapters 3 and 4 of the Refugees Act 130 of 1998.
In civil cases legal aid is not available to non-citizens.
People on state grants
If you receive any state grant, you will have to take the Means Test. If need be, you may need to show us official documents that prove you receive a state grant. The state grant amounts will not be considered when assessing your Means Test.
You don’t pay for legal aid
If you qualify for legal aid, and we have agreed to represent you, you will not have to pay for anything. In fact, Legal Aid South Africa lawyers may not ask for or be paid any money when they assist you with your case. If this does happen, we ask that you report the lawyer to us by calling our Ethics Hotline on 0800 153 728 or logging a complaint through our website or visiting us.
We may deduct costs and benefits
Although you don’t pay for legal aid, if you should win a civil case we will deduct the money that the court grants to pay for costs and benefits, before we pay the money owing to you.
We also consider special legal cases
Legal Aid South Africa tries to help as many people who can’t afford help as possible. From time to time, opportunities arise for us to take on legal work that has the potential to positively change the lives of a far larger number of people than just the person that we provide legal assistance to. These cases fall under our Impact Litigation Programme.
Appeals against refusal of legal aid
An applicant can appeal the refusal of legal aid by approaching the Head of Office of the Legal Aid SA Local Office they have applied at.
Where a Head of Office refuses an applicant legal aid, the applicant can approach the Provincial Executive.
Where the Provincial Executive confirms the refusal, then the National Operations Executive can be approached.
There are no further internal appeals against refusals of legal aid save for the procedures set out in section 22 of the Legal Aid SA Act 39 of 2014
Leave to appeal and appeal
Legal aid is provided for application for leave to appeal to the Trial Court and application/petition for leave to apply to a higher court if leave to appeal was refused. Legal aid is also provided if leave to appeal was granted or if the accused has automatic rights of appeal. Second or further appeal is granted, subject that there are merits.
If you think you qualify for legal aid, or if you have any questions that you would like to ask, then please contact us.
How we help
Provided you qualify for help, we can assist with:
- Criminal cases – These are cases where you are suspected of committing a crime.
- Civil cases – These are cases where a judge needs to decide on a dispute between you and someone else, or a company.
Sometimes an issue may include both a civil and criminal case. For example, you may be charged with a crime (under criminal law) and by another person (under civil law).
Legal aid is available for the following legal issues:
- Criminal offences
- Consumer issues (Consumer Protection Act)
- Contract law
- Debt issues (National Credit Act)
- Deceased estates
- Equality Court cases (Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act 4 of 2000. Do note that personal damages claims that are excluded under the Legal Aid South Africa Regulations may not be dealt with as part of an Equality Court action or claim)
- Problems accessing payment of benefits
- Employment claims, such as unfair dismissal or discrimination
- Separation, divorce or disputes about children
- Actions against the police, such as wrongful arrest
- Challenging the decision of a local authority
- Housing, such as threatened eviction
- Threatened evictions from farms
- Mental health, such as legal advice if you’re detained in a mental hospital
- Domestic violence
- Any case where your rights have been violated
There are some cases that we won’t provide assistance in. To find out if we can assist you, first check that you qualify as per the Means Test, and if you do then get in touch with us.