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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Applying for legal aid for U.K. civil cases

By Wendy Lin

The law can be expensive, so legal aid is designed to help bear the costs of advice and help with legal matters. Civil cases are non-criminal, and include the kind of everyday matters many people find themselves having to deal with. However, changes to the legal aid system mean that some help towards legal costs has been reduced. You can now only apply for civil legal aid for the following problems:
  • Domestic Abuse and Violence, and some family problems
  • Asylum applications
  • Discrimination
  • Housing Issues, such as court action and eviction
  • Court action for debt
  • Benefits or council tax if the case is referred to a tribunal, court of appeal or supreme court

Applying for legal aid

If you have one of the types of problems listed above, and are on a low income, then you may be entitled to legal aid. So the first step is to contact a legal aid solicitor who should be able to advise you on whether you would be entitled to their help. All solicitors who offer legal aid should have a contract with the Legal Aid Agency (LAA).

They can easily be found through an online search for legal aid solicitors in your area, and will usually specify the types of legal problems they deal with.  www.abels-solicitors.co.uk in Southampton for example, specialise in all areas of the law. Do bear in mind however that legal aid is different in Scotland and Northern Ireland, so if you live in any of these areas, you must seek further advice.

Eligibility for legal aid and income

If you receive a benefit such as income support, ESA, JSA, pension credits, then you automatically qualify for full legal aid provided you do not hold disposable capital of over £8000.

For those not on benefits, then your gross monthly income must not exceed £2,657 to qualify. If your gross income is this amount or less, then your solicitor well help you work out what ‘disposable income’ is, in other words what you can pay after all your living and essential costs are accounted for. If your disposable income is over £315 per month, you will have to pay a monthly contribution depending on your income, however, for less than this you will pay nothing, provided you have no more than £8000 in savings or other capital assets.

What to expect from your solicitor

All solicitors must follow professional standards which include, treating your fairly, telling you all you need to know about the service you might need, giving you all the options about how to deal with a problem, and clear information about costs. If you are eligible for legal aid and the solicitor you see does not provide it, they should tell you this and give you the opportunity to consult with a solicitor’s who do.

Before visiting any solicitor, it’s a good idea to gather together all relevant paperwork relating to your case and your income.

About the author: Wendy Lin is a successful author, painter and CIO. She runs her own private consultancy company and enjoys painting watercolour in her free time.