To qualify under this scheme you must either:
a) Be on Income Support or Income-based Jobseekers Allowance, Income based Employment and Support Allowance, Guarantee Credit or Universal Credit.
b) Otherwise if you have or receive money your gross income must not be more than £2,657 per month, (this figure increases if you have more than 4 children) and your "disposable income" must not be more than £733 per month.
c) Your case must be of the kind covered under Schedule 1 of the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.
You will only be assessed on the income you receive in the month prior to seeing a solicitor, so if your income changes regularly it will only be your most recent monthly income which is considered. You will have to sign a "Legal Help Form".
If you have a partner who is not the person you are bringing your case against then both your income and your partner's income are added together (tax and national insurance contributions are deducted) your joint incomes are looked at when deciding if you are entitled to Legal Help.
If your joint disposable income is more than £733 per month you will not be eligible at all under the Scheme.
However, you are allowed to deduct certain amounts from your weekly income if you are paying for a partner or children, (children includes a foster child) or dependent relative living in the same household.
The deductions are as follows:
15 or under deduct
16 or over deduct
£177.50 per month
£285.13 per month - for each child
£285.13 per month - for each child
You also have to show that your savings do not exceed a certain amount, (£8,000) or in the case of an immigration dispute (£3,000).
Don't forget that the Statutory Charge still applies under this scheme. If your solicitor helps you to recover money or property or keep property or money you may have to repay your legal costs. It does not matter that you have not actually gone to court. However, you can ask the Legal Aid Agency to waive the charge if it would cause you hardship.
Your solicitor can represent you in divorce proceedings under the scheme, but if your divorce involves a dispute about the children or a dispute about money or property then you will need to apply for a Legal Representation Certificate to deal with these matters.
If your solicitor deals with your divorce under the Legal Help scheme and you have to attend a "Children's Appointment". See Relationships & Family Law for details, your solicitor cannot represent you at court under the scheme and you may have to go to court alone, or pay your solicitor to attend. If as part of divorce proceedings you attend mediation you may be entitled to help with the costs of mediation under the "family mediation" scheme. However, your gross income must not exceed £2,657 per month, (this figure increases if you have more than 4 children) and this time your disposable income must not exceed £733 per month. You must also not have savings over £8,000. You will also qualify if you are in receipt of income support or income based job seekers allowance.
If you have already signed one Legal Help Form for the same matter with another solicitor, then your new solicitor will have to get permission from the Legal Aid Agency before they can let you sign another Form.
You have to sign a Form for each new matter that you require advice on.
Your solicitor should only perform the initial work which is reasonable for your particular case.
The Legal Aid Agency will not grant authority for your solicitor to represent you under the scheme indefinitely and there may come a time when your solicitor will not be able to take your case any further.
If court proceedings are involved you can of course apply for a Legal Representation Certificate, in order to carry on, otherwise you may have to pay your solicitor to continue acting for you or you can act for yourself, if a Certificate is not granted to you.