Environmental Legal Assistance Fund

Open for applications

The fund is for not-for-profit groups advocating for matters of environmental public interest. Funding enables applicants to participate more effectively and efficiently in matters or issues affecting the environment or processes regulating the environment.


The ELA Fund three application forms are updated as of December 2023. If you have any questions about the new forms contact the ELA Fund team at ela.fund@mfe.govt.nz.

Amount funded

Up to $50,000 (excluding GST) per group per application for any one case.

Key dates

23 February 2024
Round 4: panel meeting
29 March 2024
Round 5: closing date for applications
24 April 2024
Round 5: panel meeting
7 June 2024
Round 6: closing date for applications
27 June 2024
Round 6: panel meeting

What the fund covers

Funding is available to cover the time and expenses of legal representatives and/or expert witnesses used in preparing for, resolving and/or presenting cases before the Environment Courthigher courts and for first instance hearings (for example, before decision-making panels) where the right of appeal is likely to be restricted to points of law only.

As part of your application you must include a short resume about your legal representatives and expert witnesses which outlines their relevant qualifications and experience, including the experience of your legal counsel in resource management or environmental matters. There is no guarantee that any or all requested funding will be awarded. The applicant must be eligible for funding and only reasonable costs will be considered for funding.

If insufficient information is provided, a request will be made for additional information. Your application will not be assessed until all the required information has been provided.

What the fund does not cover

  • Costs incurred before the original funding application was lodged. 
  • Assistance at council hearings where there is a right of appeal that is not restricted to points of law only 
  • Costs of members of applicant groups in any event
  • Sundry costs of non-incorporated groups
  • Costs of establishing the group as a legal entity
  • Ongoing costs of the group (eg,) capital costs and rent
  • Costs awarded by the court against a group or individuals of the group
  • Costs of preparing submissions to the Minister for the Environment for the board of inquiry hearings under the call-in process. This is a prior stage to the board of inquiry hearing.

Who can apply

Not-for-profit groups are eligible to apply for funding.

Eligible groups include iwi and hapū groups, incorporated societies, and community groups. It is generally expected that groups are incorporated or a trust. The fund is not available to individuals.

Before applying for funding the group must either:

  • already be engaged in the proceedings by being a party to the case (eg, by having lodged a submission with the relevant authority, participated in court proceedings as initiator, respondent or as an interested party) or
  • have demonstrated to a court that the group has standing to participate in the proceedings.

Funding available

There is no minimum grant and the maximum grant is $50,000 (excluding GST) per group per application for any one case. The fund has a total annual budget of $600,000 (excluding GST).

The Ministry enters into a deed of funding with the group to pay the costs (up to specified amounts) for the specified legal counsel and expert witnesses. Money is not provided directly to the applicant group.

Assessment of applications

Applications are assessed every 8–10 weeks by an independent advisory panel against set criteria. The panel makes recommendations to the Ministry for the Environment who makes the final decision on whether to fund an application.

The independent advisory panel comprises seven members appointed for their knowledge of environmental law, resource management issues and of community groups and iwi. The members are appointed by the Minister for the Environment.

Independent advisory panel members

  • Phil Page (Chair) - Legal
  • Ani Pitman - Māori /Cultural
  • Kuru Ketu - Legal/Māori
  • Rachel Devine - Legal
  • Gregory Carlyon - Planning

Assessment criteria

The Primary funding criteria recognise whether the application impacts the environment or involves processes regulating the environment that are of consequence to the public generally.

The Secondary funding criteria provide other considerations which the Panel may take into account and therefore may also influence the level of funding if any is recommended.

Primary criteria

The panel will consider whether a group’s case is in the environmental public interest, including whether:

  • it relates to or raises nationally or regionally important matters or issues affecting the environment or processes regulating the environment.
  • it relates to the relationship of Māori and their culture and traditions with their ancestral lands, water, sites, waahi tapu, and other taonga 
  • it has the potential to create useful case law
  • it has the potential to improve the administration and efficiency of the relevant resource management Act/environmental legislation
  • it involves issues of national or regional importance that will not be addressed in full before a relevant court or a board of inquiry or hearing authority without the expert evidence provided by the group
  • there is a degree of collaboration undertaken or proposed to be undertaken by the funding applicant with other parties in the case
  • the group and/or its members has a private interest in the outcome.

Secondary criteria

The panel may consider:

  • when considering the commitment of the group:
    • the funding applicant’s demonstrated ability to manage the case (including any previous experience in legal cases)
    • its history with the issue
    • the time it has invested in the issue or case
    • its financial contribution to the issue or case (having regard to the position of the group and the resources it can offer)
    • its efforts to raise funds and
    • the pro bono contribution from lawyers and/or experts
  • whether the case relates to Māori undertaking resource management/environmental duties and functions
  • whether the group is open to mediation, and whether mediation is appropriate in the proceedings
  • whether there is likely to be an imbalance between the quality of evidence and case management between the parties due to a lack of financial resources
  • whether the case is vexatious or frivolous
  • whether the case relates to a board of inquiry or a direct referral to the Environment Court or higher courts appeal
  • whether the case improves the efficiency and effectiveness of policy and planning instruments
  • any other matters arising out of the application.


After applying

If your submission is successful

  • You will enter into a deed of funding with the Ministry to pay the costs for the specified legal counsel and expert witnesses. All invoices sent to the Ministry for payment must be accompanied by a Confirmation of work undertaken form. Invoices must be made out to the Ministry for the Environment. Please note the Ministry pays out GST.
  • You will need to complete an Update on proceedings reporting form and send it to the Ministry by 1 June each year until a decision has been made or settlement reached.
  • You will need to complete a final report and send it to the Ministry within four weeks of receiving the final decision of the Environment Court or board of inquiry.

Deed of funding

Confirmation of work undertaken form

Update on proceedings reporting form

Final report