Tuesday 09 March 2021
The income limits for eligibility to legal aid have been increased, but additional tests have been introduced.
The system of legal aid in France is called 'l'aide juridictionnelle, often abbreviated to 'AJ'.
It is available to anyone who is legally resident in France, whether they are of French nationality and for most types of legal disputes, whether criminal or civil, and for the fees incurred in engaging an avocat and certain other experts, eg huissiers.
It can also be used for a legal process taking place in another jurisdiction within Europe, although, since Brexit, no longer in the UK.
Access to the system is means-tested, with a sliding scale of support if your income is above the basic income threshold.
This year the government have made some changes to the eligibility rules.
The good news is that the income thresholds have been lifted, although they remain low.
To be eligible for assistance, your annual income cannot exceed a maximum threshold, a figure that depends on family size. The level of assistance will be total or partial, depending on your income and the size of your household, as follows:
|Household Size||Max Income|
So a couple with a joint income of no more than €15,339 would be entitled to assistance at the rate of 50%, meaning they would need to meet 50% of their legal costs from their own funds.
The income assessment used is as stated on your income tax notice, using your revenu fiscal de référence (RFR). If you do not have a previous tax notice, then your income for the past 6 months is used.
However, further tests apply on the level of your capital assets, which requires that:
|Household Size||Max Personal|
You need to meet all three tests in order to qualify. So if you meet the income test, but not the asset threshold, you will not be entitled to assistance.
An exception to the general applies in relation to persons living in the same household, involved in proceedings between them (eg divorce), when only the assets and income of the applicant are considered, not those of the whole taxable household (foyer fiscal).
Inevitably, these additional tests and the complexity of the whole process and are likely to deter many potentially eligible households from making an application. For instance, the application form requires that you list your personal assets and their value!
You can download the application form at Demande d'aide juridictionnelle (Formulaire 15626*02).
Given the severity of the test for legal aid, it pays to take out legal insurance cover with your house, car and professional insurance policies. It is not expensive to do so.
We considered such policies in our article Legal Protection Insurance in France.
If you hold such a policy, you cannot also obtain legal aid, which may also be refused if the legal action is manifestly inadmissible or unfounded.