What is legal aid?
Legal aid provides assistance to those people who are otherwise unable to afford legal representation and access to the court. Legal aids role is crucial as it provides fair and equal access to justice to those most at risk of being excluded from legal representation.
Where to find a legal aid solicitor?
It is important to note that not all solicitors and firms are able to provide legal aid. First, the firm must have a registered legal aid certificate, it is only then that the firm will be permitted to apply on your behalf for legal aid.
If you believe you may be entitled to legal aid please get in touch with one of our panellists who would be happy to assist.
What does legal aid provide?
Once legal aid has been granted it will help the individual with the costs of legal advice, and representation. However, it is worth noting that you may have to contribute towards the legal costs of your case either immediately or in the future.
If you are covered by legal aid you will be provided with:
- Advice as to your rights and options,
- Help with negotiations and paperwork,
- Help if you have been accused of a crime including advice at the police station and,
- Legal representation by either a solicitor or barrister to prepare your case and speak on your behalf in court and some tribunals.
Where you can get legal aid?
All charges if you are being arrested, charged or questioned by the police however, you may be required to make a contribution. Traffic offences are not automatically entitled to legal aid.
- Family mediation to resolve disputes about children and finance on a relationship breakdown
- Domestic violence or child abuse. Domestic violence or abuse covers psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional abuse.
- Social services being involved with your children
- Injunctions against a violent or abusive partner or family member
- Other family problems if you or your child have suffered or are at risk of violence or abuse
- Forced marriages
- If your child has been or is about to be taken out of the country without your consent
- High Court proceedings about the welfare of your child
- If you have been served with proceedings under the Hague Convention
- Possession proceedings and eviction – including counterclaims for disrepair
- Unlawful eviction
- Homelessness (including asylum support for accommodation)
- Anti-social behaviour cases
- Harassment injunctions
- Serious disrepair
Asylum and Immigration
- Asylum applications
- Applying for indefinite leave to remain after relationship breakdown due to domestic violence or an EU citizenship applying to stay after domestic violence
- Applying to stay as a victim of trafficking
- Proceedings before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC)
- Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures(TPIM) notices
- Applications for asylum support (if you have applied for housing and financial support)
- If you might lose your home because of mortgage arrears
- If a creditor is taking you to court to sell your home
- If a creditor is making you bankrupt
Welfare benefits and council tax reduction
- For appeals to the Upper Tribunal, High Court, Court of Appeal or Supreme Court only.
Mental health/mental capacity
- For representation at the mental health tribunals if you are detained in hospital
- Advice if you have been sectioned, Court of Protection cases and appeals against deprivation of liberty safeguards (DoLS)
- If you disagree with a special educational needs decision about your child
- If you have been unlawfully discriminated against
- If you need help or services from the local authority and/or the NHS because of illness, disability or mental capacity (including Court of Protection cases)
- Disputes about the quality of care in residential, nursing homes and hospitals, and abuse/neglect issues
- If your child has suffered a brain injury during pregnancy, birth or in the first 8 weeks of life.
- Children with brain (neurological) injuries resulting in severe disability, which arises during pregnancy, childbirth or up to eight weeks’ postnatal (not all injuries are covered)
- Assistance at inquests (strict criteria apply)
- Protection from harassment
- Advice on disabled facilities grants, on civil claims re abuse and sexual assault allegations, confiscation proceedings, gang-related violence, nuisance caused by environmental pollution and cross-border disputes
- Appeal against a decision stopping you from working with children and vulnerable adults
- (Exceptional case funding is available in some cases for human rights issues)
When can you not get legal aid?
- Consumer and other contractual disputes
- Majority of immigration cases
- Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority cases
- Private family law, for example, divorce, dissolution of civil partnership, property, finance and children matters,
- Personal injury or death
- Tort and other general claims
- Advice on will-making
- Matters of trust law
- Company or partnership law
- Business law
- Legal advice in relation to a change of name
- Defamation or malicious falsehood.
Whether you qualify for legal aid will depend on:
- The type of case (sometimes referred to as the merit test or IoJ)
- Your financial circumstances (otherwise referred to as the means test)
Merit test – Criminal Law
The merit test looks at a person’s previous convictions, the nature of the offence and the risk of custody to determine if an applicant qualifies for legal aid. Depending on the crimes seriousness/possible consequences for the person can impact the likelihood of the person qualifying for legal aid unless you are being seen at the Crown Court to which you automatically satisfy this test.
Merit test – Civil Law
The merit test looks at the person’s likelihood of success and benefit to the client.
Eligibility limits – Means test
- Your income either individually or combined with your partner should not be more than £2,657 a month before tax.
- Your savings either combined or individually should not exceed £8,000.
- If you have more than 4 child dependants, £222 will be added to the £2657 figure for the 5th child and each further child
- Your disposable income limit must be no more than £733 per month
- If you are a victim of domestic violence or a forced marriage all upper eligibility limits will be waived. However, you may be required to make a contribution.
- Your partners wage will also be taken into consideration unless you are a victim of domestic violence or a forced marriage.
When applying for legal aid you will need to provide a recent payslip (no more than 3 months from date of application), your national insurance number, recent bank statements including saving accounts, investments and mortgage statements and a current valuation for any owned property. This information is needed in order to satisfy criteria that you are unable to afford the legal costs. However, your financial situation will not be taken into account if you case is in relation to:
- Mental health tribunals
- Children in care or,
- Child abduction
Passport to legal aid
If you are currently receiving Income Support (IS), JobSeekers Allowance (JSA), Universal Credit (UC), Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit (GC) or, income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), you will automatically be entitled to legal aid. However, you will need to provide an up to date bank statement (no more than 3 months from the date you apply) and proof of financial government support for example a letter from the job centre.
If you receive financial support under section 4 or 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 from the National Asylum Support Service (NASS), you will be passported through both income and capital tests for controlled work immigration and asylum matters.
Step 1: Assessment
First you must find out if you financially qualify for legal aid. This can be done independently by visiting the legal aid agency website and completing the online calculator. If you are married you must include your partner’s income. However, as legal aid cannot acquired by the individual you will need to go through your finances again with your chosen certificated firm therefore, it is in your interest to be honest about your financial situation. Documentation that needs to be provided in order to match your statement includes:
- National Insurance
- Bank Statements
- Job seeker or other benefits if applicable.
If you do not qualify for legal aid then this documentation will not be required.
If you are filing under Domestic Violence then your partner’s finances will not be taken into consideration.
Step 2: Certification
Once your application has been made online and approved you will be sent a legal aid certificate and will not have to worry about funding until your case is resolved. There is currently no time period as to when you will receive your certificate however, it can take under a week if you are applying under criminal and over a week if your case is civil.
It is worth noting that under certain civil cases such as housing or care proceedings your legal aid may be capped. This is due to the level of work your solicitor will do on your behalf. However, your solicitor will be aware of the threshold and can apply to extend funding if they believe it to be justified.
Capped Legal Aid
It is worth noting that for certain civil cases such as housing or care proceedings, your legal aid may be capped. This is due to the level of work your solicitor will do on your behalf. However, your solicitor will be aware of the threshold and can apply to extend funding if they believe it is justified.
While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information provided in this article, it does not constitute legal advice and cannot be relied upon as such. Each legal case and issue may have unique facts and circumstances, as a result legalally does not accept any responsibility for liabilities arising as a result of reliance upon the information provided. For further help and guidance, you can always rely on and seek advice from our experienced lawyers.
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