Can I Get Legal Aid?

As family law experts we spend a lot of time dealing with people who haven’t got much experience of working with solicitors. For many of our clients a life event such as divorce, adoption or dealing with a will and probate represents their first encounter with complex legal matters, and we do our best to make sure our services are delivered in a transparent and accessible manner. As well as up to the minute legal expertise we try to provide as much empathetic emotional support as possible, and as such we’ve learned a great deal about what often stops people seeking the legal help they need and deserve. Top of the list is often concern about meeting the bill for such help, and with it the question ‘Can I get Legal Aid?’

The first thing to point out when answering the question ‘Can I get Legal Aid? ’ is that the answer varies depending upon personal circumstances and the kind of case being dealt with. When a client asks us about legal aid eligibility, however, they at least have the advantage of knowing that we, as a law firm, still undertake work funded by Legal Aid. Many law firms don’t do the same, having shifted away from it following funding cuts from 2008 to the present day, but we believe it’s still important for access to legal advice and support to be as broad-ranging as possible. That’s why we’re always happy to answer the question ‘Can I get Legal Aid?’

There are two factors to consider when asking ‘Can I get Legal Aid?’ The first of these is the type of case which you’re dealing with. Although access to Legal Aid has been greatly reduced in recent years it is still available for some types of family law cases. In cases which are dealing with local authority care proceedings and pre-proceedings, for example, parents are automatically entitled to Legal Aid. In a huge range of other cases, Legal Aid is often made available, depending upon factors such as the financial status of the person and the merits of the case. Cases for which Legal Aid might be granted include those dealing with the following:

  • Adoption 
  • Applications for Care Orders to be discharged
  • Secure Accommodation Orders
  • Deprivation of Liberty Orders
  • Private Law Child Arrangements Orders
  • Specific Issue Orders 
  • Prohibited Steps Orders
  • Non-Molestation Orders
  • Occupation Orders
  • Special Guardianship Proceedings
  • Child Abduction
  • Divorce Proceedings   

As well as the type of case involved the test for whether a client is eligible for legal aid involves the financial situation of the client. In many cases, the fact that a client is in receipt of what are known as ‘passporting benefits’ means that they are likely to be eligible for Legal Aid, depending on the circumstances of the case. These benefits are:

  • Universal credit (UC)
  • Income Based Job Seekers Allowance (JSA)
  • Income Support (IS)
  • Income Related Employment Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit (GC)

Clients who don’t receive any of these benefits may still be eligible for Legal Aid depending upon their exact financial circumstances. In these cases, eligibility will depend upon a thorough financial assessment which takes into account income and capital. The income test will take into account factors such as a client’s wage and any child maintenance being received as well as outgoings such as rent, mortgage payments, tax and national insurance and any child care payments being made. In addition, the number of dependent children a client looks after will be factored in. At the present, the disposal income limit for Legal Aid – which refers to the amount of money a client can have left each month after paying their rent or mortgage, tax and national insurance and any child care costs – is £733, meaning a client has to have less than this left to spend each month in order to be eligible for Legal Aid. 

The capital aspect of the financial assessment will take into account the value of any assets such as property, investments and valuable items. In some circumstances the Legal Aid Society may grant Legal Aid but, depending on the value of any capital, ask the client to pay a sum toward their legal costs.

The final test applied is the merit test, which involves the Legal Aid Society weighing up the merits of each case and deciding whether Legal Aid is applicable. For a case involving domestic abuse or child abuse, for example, the client might be asked to provide supporting evidence in the form of documents such as a non-molestation Order, a letter from a GP, a letter from an agency which provides support for victims of domestic violence or a Police caution, conviction or notice of arrest.

All of the advice above comes with two caveats. The first is that exceptional case funding exists for those cases which don’t fit neatly into any of the categories covered above due to their unique circumstances, and the second is that the process of applying for Legal Aid is extremely complex, and should only really be attempted after seeking advice from experts like those at Higgins Miller. If you want to find out whether your circumstances are likely to apply please call us on 0161 429 7251 or email us at [email protected] We’ve recently passed our Cyber Essential accreditation, something which demonstrates our forward-thinking attitude and determination to remain ahead of the competition. The first 20-minute appraisal is provided free of charge, and we’ll give you the first appointment for a fixed fee, so you don’t have to worry about how much our advice is going to cost.  If you want to explore our wider charging system then please take a look here.

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November 20, 2020

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