The criteria for legal aid are being changed so more people can receive it.

Under the Legal Services Amendment Bill, introduced to Parliament yesterday, income thresholds for civil cases will be based on gross income and adjusted according to family size.

Justice Minister Phil Goff said a family of two adults and one child would meet the criteria on earnings of up to $36,371. The current equivalent level is $19,060.

"The new criteria are based on eligibility for the current community services card.

"They will be fairer to lower-income working families who are currently disadvantaged in relation to those dependent on benefits," he said.

"Under current criteria, benefits are not considered as income."

The change will take effect in 2006-07. Mr Goff said the extra cost would be about $14 million in the first year and about $21 million a year after that. Funding would be provided in the Budget.

A new repayment and debt management regime would also be introduced, with a higher proportion of recipients having to repay some or all of their grant.

- NZPA