Legal Aid - FAQs

What is Legal Aid?
If you need to see a solicitor to help you to sue someone or to get a court order, but you cannot afford to pay your solicitor, then you may be eligible for Legal Aid. The Government provides money to help pay for your case. The money comes from the Community Legal Services Fund (CLS) and is administered by the Legal Aid Agency.
 
You may be entitled to legal aid just to speak to a solicitor and to have a solicitor write letters on your behalf, this is known as Legal Help.
 
You may also be entitled to legal aid for your solicitor and/or barrister to go to court for you. For this you will need a Legal Representation Certificate. Your solicitor will apply for this on your behalf.
 
Is Everyone entitled to Legal Aid?
No. You have to show that you cannot pay for your case, (i.e. that you are financially eligible) and that you have a good case which you are likely to win, (i.e. that your case has a good prospect of success and that the likely compensation or other benefits you will receive by being involved in a court case will exceed the likely costs.) In addition your case must be of the kind that can be covered by legal aid.
 
Even if you are working, own your home and have savings, you may still qualify for legal aid. However, you may have to pay a contribution towards the cost of taking your case to court.
 
Even if you are financially eligible and can show your case has good prospects of success the Legal Aid Agency can still refuse to grant you Public Funding if:
 
i) There are alternative forms of funding available to you.
 
ii) There is a complaint system which you should try before becoming involved in a court action.
 
iii) Your case has or is likely to be referred to the Small Claims track. See Small Claims
 
iv) The Commission considers it unreasonable to fund representation for you. 
 
How do I show I cannot pay for my case?
Your solicitor and the Legal Aid Agency will decide this. They will look at how much money you have and whether you have any savings or own any property and if so how much.
 
If you receive Income Support, Income-based Jobseekers Allowance, Income-based Employment Allowance, Guarantee Credit or Universal Credit you will qualify for "Legal Help" and will not have to pay anything for legal advice as long as your capital is not above the limits set.
 
If you are working and you have disposable income of £733 per month or less and a gross income of no more than £2,657 per month, (this figure increases if you have more than 4 children), and your capital is not more than £3,000 then you are entitled to see a solicitor free under the "Legal Help Scheme".
 
Your solicitor can give you advice and write letters, but the amount of work they can do is limited. Your solicitor can start work on the same day they see you, but they will require proof of your income or entitlement to benefits.
 
To get a Legal Representation Certificate so that a solicitor can go to court with you is more complicated. You may have to pay for part of your legal costs if your Income, Savings and the value of your Property is above a certain level. If it is below this level you will pay nothing.
 
To help the Legal Aid Agency decide if you qualify you will have to fill in forms giving details of your income, expenses and any property you own.
 
Your solicitor will apply to the Agency and your legal fees/costs are only covered from the date that the Certificate is granted to you.
 
What is disposable income?
For the purposes of calculating whether you are entitled to legal help and similar services the Legal Aid Agency will deduct the following from your income:
 
a) Deduction of a certain amount depending on how many dependent children you have.
 
b) Tax and National Insurance.
 
c) Maintenance you are paying to your wife/husband of former wife/husband or a child or relative, (who are not members of your current household).
 
d) Housing costs, for example mortgage or rent, (less any housing benefit). There is a maximum figure of £545 per month if you have no dependents. Otherwise the full value of your housing costs can be taken into account.
 
e) Employment related expenses, for example travel costs. This figure is a set of £45 per month.
 
f) Childminding charges, these are only deductible if you are receiving a wage or salary and actually pay private childminding charges. Deduction can only be made for children 15 or under, (unless they are disabled in which case there will be no limit on age).
 
g) If you are in receipt of certain state benefits on top of your income then these will be disregarded, (examples are disability living allowance, invalid care allowance, council tax benefit, housing benefit, payments out of the social fund etc). 
 
What is meant by capital?
Capital includes savings and other assets such as shares and property. It excludes household furniture, clothing, tools of trade, capital value of a business if you are self-employed, capital held in trust funds, cars and other vehicles in regular use, back to work bonus and community care payments.
 
It also does not include any capital which is the subject matter of the dispute for which you are applying for public funding.
 
The equity in your home will be included if it is not the subject matter of the dispute. The Legal Aid Agency will deduct the mortgage amount, but only up to a maximum of £100,000. They will then disregard the first £100,000 of the value of the property. The rest will form part of your capital.
 
Do I get something for nothing?
Not necessarily, if you are granted legal aid and you win your case and receive money, then you may have to repay your legal costs.
This is known as the Statutory Charge, your legal costs could include your solicitors costs, barristers fees and any experts who wrote reports to help your case as well as court fees.
 
If you get an order from the court that your opponent has to pay your costs then you may not have to repay your own costs.
 
However, there may still be a small percentage of "Unrecovered" costs that you could owe to your solicitor.
 
If you lose your case you do not have to pay back your legal costs. However, the Legal Aid Agency will not pay any costs or other money that you have to pay to your opponent because you lost the case, i.e. compensation or payment of your opponent's costs.
 
Usually you will not have to pay your opponent's costs if you are legally aided. The court will make an order that your opponent can only get their costs from you if they can show you have the money to pay.
 
Can the Statutory Charge be waived or postponed?
The Legal Aid Agency does have a discretion to waive their right to claim back the payment of your legal costs, if you recover or hang on to property or money whilst being advised under the Legal Help Scheme. Ask your solicitor about this.
 
However, your legal costs incurred under a Legal Representation Certificate cannot be waived, except:
 
i) Where the proceedings were considered to have a significant wider public interest, or
 
ii) Where it was considered cost effective to fund legal representation for certain claimants, but not others who might benefit.
 
The costs can however be postponed. This means that the Agency will not claim the money back immediately, but instead they will register a Charge on your property, (this is a little like a mortgage). The Agency will only postpone the charge in this way if the property to be charged is your home or your children's home or the money is to be used to buy a home for yourself or your children.
 
The Agency will recover their costs if and when you sell your property. However, they charge interest on the outstanding amount, currently 8%.
 
You can pay off the outstanding amount by instalments, if the Agency agrees. When you have paid all the outstanding amounts the charge will be taken off your property.
 
Can I apply for Legal Aid on behalf of someone else?
If you are a parent or a child then you can apply for Legal Aid on behalf of a child under the age of 18. Sometimes a friend or a relative can also apply on behalf of someone who is mentally ill and so cannot apply themselves.
 
Are there any other schemes under which I might get free or cheap legal advice?
Some solicitors offer Free or Fixed Fee interviews. Law Centres or Citizen Advice Bureaux offer free legal advice.
 
Some solicitors operate special schemes such as ALAS (Accident Line Advice Scheme) where they will guarantee a free 30 minute first interview for accident victims.
 
Other solicitors have agreements with certain Trade Unions to provide free advice to members.
 
If you have car or house insurance you may find that this also covers you for legal expenses, which will cover your solicitor's costs.
 
There are also some instances where Legal Aid is available regardless of your income or capital:
 
1. Legal representation in special Children Act and related proceedings, (e.g. care proceedings).
 
2. Matters relating to the Mental Health Act 1983, the Mental Capacity Act 2005 or the Repatriation of Prisoners Act 1984.
 
3. A person who is the subject of a terrorism prevention and investigation measure, under the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011.
 
4. Applications for child maintenance under EU and international agreements, under Article 5 b (1) of the EU Maintenance Regulation  (EC) No 412009.
 
5. Criminal proceedings involving children under 18.
 
Are there any cases for which Legal Aid is not available?
Yes. Legal Aid is not available for the following types of cases:
 
1. Neighbour and boundary disputes, (unless connected to some other housing issue).
 
2. Defamation or malicious falsehood.
 
3. Conveyancing, (unless related to other court proceedings where an order was made).
 
4. Making of wills.
 
5.  Matters of trust law, (except if this is related to a family dispute or family proceedings).
 
6. Claims in relation to death or personal injury, or under the Vaccine Damage Payments Act 1979.
 
7. Any negligence claims.
 
8. Assault, battery and false imprisonment claims.
 
9. Claims for trespass to goods.
 
10. Claims for trespass to land.
 
11. Claims relating to damage to property.
 
12. Claims relating to breach of statutory duty.
 
13. Claims against a public authority relating to breaches under the Human Rights Act 1998.
 
14. Claims arising from company or partnership matters.
 
15. Claims for compensation under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.
 
16. The cost of changing your name officially.
 

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