9 May 2014

Legal aid debtor upset at charges

11:10 am on 9 May 2014

A grandmother with a $12,000 legal aid debt believes it is unfair the Government is charging interest retrospectively.

The Crown started charging 8 percent interest on outstanding debt in March.

A woman who does not want to be named said when she applied for custody of her grandchildren in 2009 she had no option but to get legal aid.

She said she understood the debt would be payable if and when her house was sold, but the situation changed.

"One day I got a letter explaining the changes and all of a sudden I stood there with a letter in my hand and I suddenly had a twelve thousand dollar debt that I didn't have the day before.

"It was really, really distressing because I didn't feel like it was my debt - I had no choice but to step in and do what I did."

The woman said she would be 72 by the time the debt was paid off.

The general manager of Legal Aid Services Michele McCreadie said legal aid had always been a loan.

She said the majority of people (about 75%) who receive legal aid don't incur a debt because they don't meet income and asset thresholds for repayment. The 25% of cases that do incur a debt were people who had been assessed as capable of repaying their legal aid loan.

Within this group the Legal Services Commissioner can exercise discretion where repayment would cause hardship or people's circumstances have changed, she said.