Apply to write off your legal aid debt

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What is a write off?

If a legal aid debt is written off in full, you won’t have to pay the remainder of that debt. Sometimes a partial write off will be approved. This means the debt will be reduced, but you’ll still have to pay back a certain amount.

How do I apply for a write off? 

In some cases, we can assess a write off application over the phone. To contact us please call 0800 600 090. We’re available between 8.00am and 5.00pm, Monday to Friday.

Write off application form [PDF, 543 KB]

If we cannot assess your application over the phone, we will require a written application to be submitted along with supporting information by email to legalaiddebt@justice.govt.nz.
Alternatively, you can post your application to:

Legal Aid Debt
DX SX11295
Wellington

We’ll notify you by sending an email or letter once we’ve made a decision. Providing all relevant supporting information for your claim will help our debt team decide as quickly as possible.

What grounds can you apply for a write off under?

 You can apply for a write off based on serious financial hardship, or for any other reason you think should be considered (these are called “just and equitable reasons”). You can choose to apply under one or both of these reasons.

Serious financial hardship

This means you’re unable to make repayments towards your legal aid debt because it puts you in serious financial hardship over the long term.

If you’re unable to make payments in the short term, you can contact us to discuss putting off (deferring) payments. Examples could be if you’re currently looking for work, or you need to stop your payments for a few weeks.

What supporting information do I need to provide?

You’ll need to complete the means assessment in the application form. Make sure you have clearly stated what your income is, and where you receive this money from.
You should include supporting information with your application, for example a bank statement from a recent month or proof of debts.

Other reasons (also called "just and equitable grounds")

A “just and equitable ground” is any reason other than serious financial hardship that might justify a write off. Everyone’s case is different, so you should provide your reasons and any supporting information. For example:

If....Supporting information you could provide
The other party increased the cost of the case. For example, the other party caused unreasonable delays • a letter from your lawyer
OR
• a copy of the judgment
You needed a translator to assist you You don't need to provide evidence as we will have a record of this on file
You experienced mental health issues that increased the cost of the case or affected your ability to repay the debt • a medical certificate
OR
• a letter from your lawyer

Reasons that don't meet the criteria for a write off

There are some reasons that don’t meet the criteria for a write off of legal aid debt. However, if you submit a write off application, we will make a decision based on everything you have provided. Some examples of reasons that don’t meet the criteria are as follows:

ReasonWhy a write off is not justified
You were found not guilty You've received a good outcome from publicly funded representation.
You have a complaint about your lawyer A write off isn't the right place to address a complaint about your lawyer. If you want to complain about the service you received from a legal aid lawyer, you should contact Legal Aid Complaints or the New Zealand Law Society(external link). Once investigated, if you claim is substantiated, you can apply for a write off.
You tried to reach a settlement or minimise the cost of the case Although you may have tried to reduce the cost of your case, using the services of a legal aid lawyer always has a financial cost. When your legal aid grant was first approved, we sent you a letter explaining that you would have to repay some of, or all, your legal aid debt.
You thought legal aid was free Legal aid is a loan. When your legal aid grant was first approved, we sent you a letter explaining that you would have to repay some of, or all, your legal aid debt.
You suffered from stress Legal proceedings are often stressful. Reasonable stress doesn’t justify a write off. If you can provide evidence to show that the stress you experienced was beyond what could reasonably be expected in the circumstances, you may be eligible for a write off.
You didn't want to engage in legal proceedings Most people don’t want to engage in legal proceedings but do so because they have to. The legal aid service provided helped you to have fair and equal access to the justice system.
You're unhappy with the settlement you received Settlements are agreed upon or ordered by the court. A write off shouldn’t be used to appeal a court decision or place you in a better financial position.

What if I disagree with a decision made on my application?

You can submit a reconsideration application within 20 working days of the date on the write off decision letter. This means your application will be assessed again by another debt officer who wasn’t involved in the first decision.

Before you submit your reconsideration application, we recommend you consider the reasons your application was declined in the initial decision letter. This is your opportunity to raise any points that you feel weren’t considered or provide more information to support your claim.

What if I can't submit my reconsideration application within 20 working days?

Your application may still be accepted up to three months after the initial decision was made. You’ll need to provide information about extenuating circumstances for why your application was not submitted within 20 working days.

What if I'm unhappy with the decision made on my reconsideration application?

If you believe the decision made on your reconsideration application is obviously incorrect (‘manifestly unreasonable’), wrong in law, or both then you can apply to the Legal Aid Tribunal to have the decision reviewed.