Family Legal Aid; why is it so complicated?

Family Legal Aid; why is it so complicated?


As fewer firms offer legal aid there are talks of legal aid deserts:
https://www.theguardian.com/law/2018/dec/26/strain-of-legal-aid-cuts-showing-in-family-housing-and-immigration-law and
https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/practice/society-exposes-catastrophic-housing-advice-deserts/5070051.article

When you look at the ways clients can qualify for legal aid it does seem you need a degree in astrophysics to try and understand the labyrinthine rules. It is no wonder so many firms are ceasing to offer legal aid. A large number of firms have left the sector due to very low rates and the bureaucracy involved.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-46357169

Access Law are committed to act for clients who qualify for Family legal aid; but whether they qualify depends on several factors.

Eligibility for LEGAL AID

Ascertaining whether clients qualify for Legal Aid is a complex exercise and is covered by many Regulations. 

Details of legal aid funding are on our website at: https://www.accesslaw.co.uk/legal-aid/

CARE PROCEEDINGS

For care proceedings, where the Local Authority may be considering taking Court action because of concerns about the care of the children, for general advice legal help is available, providing the clients qualify on means (see below).

If the case is one under the Public Law Outline, where there are meetings to try and prevent any Court action, as long as the client is a parent or has parental responsibility and there has been a letter from the Local Authority saying they may take proceedings, then legal aid is free regardless of their income or assets.

If Court action commences legal aid is available for parents and those with parental responsibility. This is again free regardless of income or assets.  For non-parents such as grandparents legal aid is available but is means tested and there must be a good reason for applying.

DIVORCE, CHILDREN CASES SUCH AS WHERE THE CHILD IS TO LIVE OR SEE THE OTHER PARENT, FINANCES. COHABITEES CLAIMS ABOUT PROPERTY.

This is more difficult.  The client has to first qualify through the “Domestic Abuse Gateway” or where the child is at “risk of abuse”.  https://www.gov.uk/legal-aid/domestic-abuse-or-violence

Domestic Abuse is defined as any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (whether psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between individuals who are associated with each other.

This will be proved in a number of ways including Medical Reports, Court Orders, criminal convictions or proof someone has been housed in a refuge. However, the Legal Aid Agency will not pay to obtain the proof.

Our web page has links to the items that are sufficient proof and standard letters that are needed to provide the necessary proof.  See:

https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/sample-letters-to-get-evidence-of-domestic-violence and https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/sample-letters-to-get-evidence-of-child-abuse

The client then secondly has to qualify on means.  Basically, their disposable income has to be less than £733 per month taking into account, housing costs (not necessarily the entire figure) tax and NI and a figure for dependants of £291.49 per month per child.  The guidance is 40 pages long which shows how complex the calculations can be. Income does include maintenance and benefits although clients on Universal credit qualify automatically, unless their capital is over £8,000.00 and that can include an interest in a home, depending on several factors such as if the opponent is claiming a share, does the client live there etc.  No allowance is made for council tax or utilities as that is factored into the allowance but child care costs can be deducted.

There is a calculator available at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/work-out-who-qualifies-for-civil-legal-aid#civil-legal-aid-calculator

INJUNCTION CASES

The client needs to have grounds to apply but does not need to provide the proof needed for the domestic abuse gateway cases.  Then the client must qualify financially as stated above but there is no upper limit for eligibility although contributions may be payable.

CHILD ABDUCTION

Access Law act for clients whose children have been removed to England illegally and the legal aid for those parents is available free of charge regardless of their means. If the parent who took the child is here legal aid is available, but it depends on the client having a good reason to defend the case and they qualify financially as stated above.

APPOINTMENTS

As the rules are so complex, especially for divorce, children and finance cases, we are not able to assume that clients will qualify.  On  that basis we will make an appointment for a client to see one of our lawyers but on the basis they will be charged the fixed fee of £75 including vat for a 45 minute appointment (or £120 if they see the Head of the Family Department, Derek Parsons) but if the client then does qualify for legal aid the fee may be waived, provided the appropriate evidence is provided at the appointment and the client qualifies financially.

MEDIATION

Legal Help is also available to assist with Mediation for finances and/or children issues if both parties are prepared to engage in the process and to assist in preparing a Consent Order if the matter is agreed and there are current divorce proceedings. Mediation must have already started and the same financial rules apply.

023 8214 8800

Access Law

Get in Touch

Call us on 023 8214 8800 or email us at law@accesslaw.co.uk

To make an enquiry regarding any of our services, please contact Access Law Solicitors as above, or simply fill out our enquiry form and we’ll get straight back to you.