A guide to understanding Legal Aid in Family Cases

If you need help with your legal bills, you may be eligible for family legal aid. In such cases, there are some financial conditions that have to be satisfied. In some cases you will get your legal aid free, but in others you mat have to pay towards your costs.

What is Civil Legal Aid?

Civil legal aid helps you to pay for legal advice, mediation, or representation in court with problems such as housing, debt, and family.

The Different Types of Civil Legal Aid

  • Legal Help – advice on your rights and options as well as help with negotiating;
  • Help at Court – someone speaks on your behalf at court but does not formally represent you;
  • Family Mediation – helps you to come to an agreement in a family dispute after your relationship has broken down without going to court. It can help to resolve problems involving children, money, and the family home;
  • Family Help – help or representation in family disputes like drawing up a legal agreement;
  • Legal Representation – representation at court by a solicitor or barrister;
  • Controlled Legal Representation – representation at mental health tribunal proceedings or before the First-Tier Tribunal in asylum or immigration cases.

Who Can Provide Legal Aid Services?

Legal aid services can only be provided by organisations that have a contact with the Legal Aid Agency (LAA). These include solicitors in private practice, law centres, and some Citizens Advice Bureaux.

Which Cases Can You Get Civil Legal Aid For?

You can only get civil legal aid for the following types of cases:

Welfare Benefits

  • Appeals to the Upper Tribunal, Court of Appeal or Supreme Court.

Council Tax Reduction Schemes

  • Appeals to the High Court, Court of Appeal or Supreme Court.

Debt

  • Court action by your mortgage lender because of mortgage arrears.
  • Court action by a creditor to force you to sell your home.
  • A creditor is making you bankrupt.

Housing

  • Court action to evict you from your home because of rent arrears.
  • Eviction from your home.
  • You are homeless and need help from the council with being re-houses.
  • Your rented home is in serious disrepair.
  • You are being harassed and need a court order to protect you,
  • Your landlord or the council is taking you to court to get an anti-social behaviour order or anti-social behaviour injunction against you.

Discrimination

  • You have been discriminated against and this is against the law. The law protects you from being discriminated against by employers, education, housing and service providers, public bodies such as the Council, and associations like sports clubs.

Education (Special Educational Needs)

  • Appeals against Special Educational Needs assessments by the council.

Immigration and Asylum

  • Asylum applications
  • You have been detained
  • You are applying to settle in the UK because your relationship has broken down because of domestic violence
  • You are an EC citizen and are applying to stay in the UK because your relationship has broken down because of domestic violence
  • You are applying to stay in the UK because you are a victim of trafficking
  • Proceedings before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission
  • You have received a Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measure notice
  • Applications for asylum support, but only if you have applied for housing and financial support

Family, Children and Domestic Abuse

You can get family legal aid:

  • For private family law matters, such as divorce, where there is evidence of domestic violence or abuse or child abuse. Domestic violence or abuse covers psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional abuse.
  • If you’re a victim of domestic violence or are at risk of being a victim of abuse, need advice on your rights to stay in your home and need a court order to protect you.
  • If you’re a victim of domestic violence or are at risk of being a victim of abuse and need advice on family matters such as divorce and disputes about children.
  • If you need to protect a child who is at risk of abuse, for example if you need to apply to court to prevent someone who has abused a child from having contact with them.
  • For family mediation.
  • For family court proceedings if you are a child.
  • If you need protection from being forced into marriage or because you have been forced into marriage.
  • If the local authority is taking court proceedings to take your child into care.
  • To stop children being removed from the UK or to get them returned if they have been unlawfully removed.
  • To enforce European Union and international agreements about children and maintenance.

There are very strict rules about the proof that you have to show to qualify for legal aid in these cases.

Mental Health

  • Advice if someone has been detained or ‘sectioned’
  • Applications to Menta Health Tribunals
  • Court of Protection Work
  • Appeals against DOLS (Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards)

Community Care

  • For community care cases. Community care services are arranged by the council for people with care needs such as home help.

You can also get legal aid for:

  • A court order to protect you from harassment
  • An appeal against a decision stopping you from working with children and vulnerable adults
  • Advice and help on Disabled Facilities Grants
  • Civil claims relating to allegations of abuse and sexual assault
  • Confiscation proceedings
  • An injunction for gang-related violence
  • An inquest into the death of a member of your family
  • An injunction to stop a nuisance caused by environmental pollution
  • Cross-border disputes

Financial Conditions for Getting Civil Legal Aid

Your income and capital must be within certain limits to get civil aid:

Legal Aid if You’re Getting Benefits

If you or your partner receive a passporting benefit, your income will not be looked at to see if you qualify for legal aid. However, your capital will be looked at.

The passporting benefits are:

  • Income support
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Guarantee credit part of Pension Credit
  • Universal Credit

You will get legal aid for an asylum problem if you receive government asylum support.

Legal Aid if You Have Income

If your gross monthly income is over £2,657 you won’t receive legal aid; ‘gross income’ means before tax and national insurance are taken off and it excludes certain social security benefits. If you have more than four children, this limit goes up by £222 for the fifth and each additional child. You have to include your partner’s income unless your partner is the person who you are in dispute with.

If your gross monthly income is £2,657 or less, your solicitor or adviser will then check what your disposable income is; ‘disposable income’ is the amount of income you have left after deductions have been made for national insurance, tax, maintenance, housing costs, and other certain expenses. Additionally, if you have a partner living with you or if you have dependent children or other dependents, a certain amount of your income won’t be taken into account. If your partner is earning, their income will be taken into account unless your partner is the person you are in dispute with.

To qualify for legal aid, your disposable monthly income can’t be more than £733. If you are within this limit, you don’t have to pay anything towards legal help, but if your disposable income is over £315, you will have to pay a monthly contribution if you’re getting legal representation. The amount of contribution depends on your income.

Legal Aid if You Have Capital

If you have disposable capital (savings) of over £8,000, you won’t get legal aid. Disposable capital includes:

  • Money in the bank
  • Valuable items
  • The value of your home if you own it. This depends on how much the property is worth and how much your mortgage is.

You have to include your partner’s capital unless your partner is the person who you are in dispute with.

If you are getting legal representation and your disposable capital us under £3,000, you won’t have to pay a contribution towards the costs of the case.

If you have more than £3,000 of disposable capital, you will have to pay a contribution towards the costs of your case. The contribution has to be paid straight away and it will be all of the capital you have over £3,000 up to the total cost of the legal advice.

If You Own a Home

Your owned home will be considered as capital. However, not all of the value of your home will be taken into account. You can deduct your mortgage or any charges of your home, up to a maximum of £100,000. This is called mortgage disregard. You can also deduct 3% of the market value of your home (the amount for which it could be sold for on the open market) for sales costs.

If You’re Over 60

If you’re over 60, some of your capital can be disregarded in addition to any mortgage disregard. How much of your capital is disregarded depends on how much spare income you have each month. For example, if your spare income is between £0-£25, your disregard capital is £100,000. If your spare income is between £226-£315, you disregard capital is £10,000. If your spare income is over £315, none of your capital will be disregarded – although the mortgage disregard may still apply.

Repaying your solicitor’s costs at the end of your case

If you have had legal aid and the result of your case is that you kept or gained money or property, you will probably have to pay back some or all of the costs of your case. This is called the statutory charge.

At the end of your case, any money you are awarded is normally paid to your solicitor. The legal aid agency will take what has been spent on your solicitor out of the award and you will get what’s left.

In some cases, payment of the statutory charge can be postponed it:

  • The property you won in the case is your home or the home of your dependents
  • The money you won in the case is to be used to buy a home for yourself or your dependents

Make sure your solicitor or adviser gives you full details about the effects of the statutory charge before you decide to go ahead with your case.

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Phone: +44 (0)1132 455 866
Email: [email protected]
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