Legal Aid is a government initiative set up to help those with legal problems but on low incomes pay for the necessary services. These might include housing, family, education or even debt problems. When the law changed in April this year, the guidelines are much tighter and just proving that you cannot afford to pay for a solicitor may not entitle you to this cover. For instance, under the new laws most work problems no longer qualify.
The reduction in cases that do qualify for funding are all part of the government’s on-going cuts. This particular one has serious implications for those on really low incomes.
Whilst most family law and child cases were covered before, now they are only covered in very specific cases. These include
- Proven domestic or child abuse
- Debt cases usually only when your home is at risk
When is Legal Aid available?
It is possible that Legal Aid might be available if
- You’ve been arrested, subject to questioning or charged with a criminal offence
- If your debts mean you might lose your home
- If you are being evicted
- For mediation in the case of divorce
- Disagreements about special education needs for your child
- If there is some dispute or concern about the care an elderly or disabled relative is receiving
Different Kinds of Legal Aid
Legal Aid may be available for several kinds of assistance:
- Advice and paperwork to inform you of your rights and help negotiations
- Someone to speak on your behalf in a civil court (N B They wouldn’t formally represent you)
- Help with family mediation i.e. putting together an agreement with an ex-partner to avoid going to court
- On occasions, a solicitor or barrister will prepare your case and act for your defence in court
When Could I Expect to get Legal Aid?
Since the laws have been tightened earlier this year, there are much stricter guidelines in place. You need to check these out carefully.
You may get Legal Aid to help with debt problems, family or housing problems. In most cases you will have to provide details of your income. Those who are minors i.e. under 18 may need this information about their parents or guardian’s income.
If you are taken into custody, a police custody officer will help you claim for Legal Aid. Your rights to Legal Aid will be checked by a solicitor. If you are under 16 or under 18 but in full time education or on certain benefits, you automatically qualify for Legal Aid in these circumstances.
What if I can’t get Legal Aid?
There are three other avenues to explore if you do not qualify for Legal Aid: you can talk to Citizen’s Advice, contact The Law Centres Network or AdviceNow. Of course you could also pay for advice from a local solicitor.
Your Local Solicitor
Look for a local solicitor who offers Legal Aid or advice in your area whether it is Southampton, Leeds or Exeter. Most practices that do will be able to answer your questions and tell you if you’re eligible.
Rob Rudd regularly contributes to several finance and law websites. When not writing, he is currently enjoying the rare British sunshine on the south coast of England.