Legal aid is organised by the Legal Services Commission. If you need help with legal costs, you may be able to get legal aid. Whether you receive it will depend on:
• The type of legal problem you have.
• Your income (how much you earn) and how much capital (money, property and belongings) you have. This is called “financial eligibility”.
• Whether there is a reasonable chance of winning your case and whether it is worth the time and money needed to win.
Legal aid is available for civil legal cases where you are in dispute with a person, company or other organisation, government department or agency. These cases include disputes to do with your home, relationships (including if you are separating or divorcing), or your money (for example, if you have difficulty receiving benefits).
Legal aid is only available for certain types of help and certain types of case. There are different levels of legal aid, and you will receive the level you need based on an assessment of your application. The levels are:
• Legal Help – initial advice and help with your problem. You will be advised how the law applies in your particular circumstances and how to prevent or resolve disputes about legal rights and duties. This does not include issuing or conducting court proceedings on your behalf i.e. bringing a claim against another person, defending a claim made against you by someone else, representing you at court
• Help at Court – a solicitor or adviser to speak on your behalf (without formally representing you) at certain court hearings.
• Family Help – help with negotiation and obtaining court orders in family disputes. You can get help to resolve family disputes through negotiation or other means:
1. Family help (lower): This provides greater assistance than you would get under ‘legal help’, and includes negotiation to resolve disputes.
2. Family help (higher): This can include issuing proceedings (making a claim or applying for a court order against someone) for a range of purposes. This could include getting a consent order (which is a court order about an agreement reached between the people involved in the dispute). If proceedings have been issued against you (you are the respondent) you can get help to resolve a family dispute at an early stage.
• Family Mediation – mediation in family disputes, for example if you and your partner are separating or divorcing. This covers a first meeting with the mediator to find out whether mediation is the right option for you.
• Legal Representation – a barrister or solicitor to represent you in court if you are taking or defending court proceedings. This used to be known as civil legal aid and is available in two forms:
1. Investigative help: funding is limited to investigating the strength of a claim, ascertaining whether you have a good chance of winning your case at court.
2. Full representation: funding is provided to represent you in legal proceedings.
It is also possible to get both forms of funding on an emergency basis where the matter is urgent and meets claim criteria. Your legal adviser will explain the rules that apply in your case.
Information about all aspects of Legal Aid can be sought from your solicitor or your local CAB.
Financial conditions for legal aid
To receive legal aid, in most cases, you must be “financially eligible”. This means that to decide whether you can receive legal aid the following criteria will be assessed:
• Your disposable income (money you have left after paying allowable expenses).
• Your disposable capital (money, investments or property that you could use or sell to pay for legal help).
Your partner’s disposable income and capital will also be taken into account, unless your relationship has ended or your partner is the opponent in the case.
If you are receiving any one of the following benefits you are financially eligible for all types of legal aid:
• Income Support.
• Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance.
• Income-based Employment and Support Allowance.
• Guarantee Credit.
You will not be financially eligible if:
• Your gross monthly income (income before tax) was more than £2,657 in the last month. A higher gross income limit applies to families with more than four dependent children, allowing an extra £222 for the 5th and each additional child
• You have more than £8,000 disposable capital
If your income and capital is below both these limits, your finances will still be looked at, along with the type of case you have, before deciding whether you are financially eligible. If you are applying for an order to protect you from harm these upper limits may be disregarded. You can receive legal aid for some types of help regardless of how much money you have. These include getting a barrister or solicitor to represent you at a Mental Health Review Tribunal, or if the local council starts care proceedings in relation to your children.
Will I have to pay anything?
If you are granted legal aid you will not receive money yourself to pay the legal bills. Your solicitor or adviser will be paid directly by the Legal Services Commission. You may still have to pay some costs, depending on your financial situation and your case. There are three ways you may have to pay:
• A lump sum, known as a “capital contribution”.
• Monthly instalments from your income until you case finishes, known as “income contribution”.
• Repaying costs if you receive (or keep hold of) money or property by winning your case. This is known as the “statutory charge”.
Changes in circumstances
You must tell your advisor straight away if your financial circumstances change. Another financial assessment may need to be made if your earnings rise or fall or you receive money from selling your house. This may also change the amount you must pay towards your legal costs. Your legal aid may also be stopped if:
• You do not supply your legal advisor with all the information they need or ask for
• Your financial circumstances change so that you are no longer eligible for funding
• You don’t keep up any monthly contribution you’ve agreed to pay towards your legal aid
• You have not supplied all the financial information needed.
• You are found not eligible for legal aid.
Your legal aid can be stopped in two ways:
• It can be “discharged”, which means your funding will stop from the point you are sent a notice to inform you this is going to happen. You may have to repay some or all of the money already spent on your case
• It can be “revoked” if it is found that you were wrongly granted legal aid, for example because you gave false information about your financial circumstances. In this case, you may have to repay all the money spent on your case.
What happens at the end of my case?
When your case ends your adviser will tell Legal Aid the result and give you a breakdown of their costs. Legal Aid will calculate whether any money is due to be refunded to you or whether you must pay the statutory charge.
What if my case is urgent?
If your case is urgent, for example if you need to make yourself safe from abuse, your solicitor can ask for Emergency Legal Representation (ELR). This can be granted straight away, but covers only limited urgent action, you must still apply for legal aid in the normal way. When you apply for ELR, you must agree to provide the information needed to assess you for legal aid, and to pay any contribution you are assessed as needing to pay. You must
also agree to pay back the full costs of your help if it is later found that you are not financially eligible, or you refuse the amount of funding offered to you. Further information on all aspects of legal aid is available from your solicitor, CAB, or contact:
Community Legal Advice
Legal Services Commission
4 Abbey Orchard Street
Helpline: 0845 345 4 345
Opening Hours: Monday – Friday 9am – 8pm Saturday 9am – 12.30pm
Minicom: 0845 609 6677
Text: text “legalaid” and your name to 80010. The cost of your text will be at the standard rate for your operator.
Website: www.legalservices.gov.uk or www.GOV.UK