Legal aid is the provision of assistance to people who are unable to afford legal representation and access to the court system. Legal aid is regarded as central in providing access to justice by ensuring equality before the law, the right to counsel and the right to a fair trial. The eligibility for legal aid is based on both the client’s annual income and his assets. The Legal Aid Board verifies the client’s personal data with those in the municipal population register and checks the applicant’s income and assets with the tax authorities. It is able to do so with the aid of a ‘burgerservicenummer’ (citizen service number) (BSN); this is a unique identification number, which every Dutch citizen receives when registering in the municipal population register. Thanks to online connections with the tax authorities, the Legal Aid Board is able to rapidly obtain information concerning the applicant’s income and assets. Additionally, also non-Dutch litigants receive legal aid when they have a problem that concerns the Dutch legal system.
Assessment of the applicant’s income and assets level (and hence his eligibility for legal aid) is based on his situation two years prior to the application date, the so-called reference year.