Legal Aid: who can access?
November 15, 2021
Solicitor Megan Ryan-Loughran provides a summary of who can access legal aid.
Since the implementation of LASPO 2012, legal aid has only been available for family law cases in certain circumstances. These are:
– active social services involvement (public law cases)
– where you have been a victim of domestic abuse
In recent times, especially following the national lockdown as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, there have been a lot of people struggling financially who may wonder whether they would be eligible for Legal Aid. Unfortunately, for family Law, being in receipt of benefits does not automatically make a person eligible for legal aid and certain criteria must be met.
In public law cases, you would be eligible for Legal Aid if you are the parent, guardian, or someone with parental responsibility for a child and the local authority have issued care proceedings in respect of your child.
With private law cases (e.g. child arrangements, divorce, finances), the Legal Aid Agency would assess your eligibility based on the means and merits test.
– The merits test requires you to have evidence of either domestic abuse or social services involvement. The gov.uk website contains a list of evidence that you would need to satisfy this element.
– The means test is a test based on your financial situation. If you are in receipt of certain benefits (eg Universal Credit), this is referred to as a ‘Passporting’ benefit and would mean that you could be eligible for Legal Aid. Not all benefits are considered passporting and this is important to consider.
Cases involving protection from domestic harm (Non Molestation Orders, Occupation Orders) are solely based on your financial situation and no existing evidence of domestic abuse is required.
Until recently, there was a website that could be accessed which assisted both clients and legal professionals to determine whether they may be provisionally eligible for Legal Aid*. This website has now closed, but there is a similar website, run by gov.uk that we would always recommend clients checking before contacting us in relation to Legal Aid.
The website can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/check-legal-aid
This site has a wealth of information about how to access legal aid, and could save clients a lot of time when researching the options available to them.
If you need help with a family law query, contact our team of specialists today. We can talk to you about different funding options, depending on whether you would be eligible for legal aid, whether you would need to pay privately, or a hybrid option of legal aid funding but with a contribution to the Legal Aid Agency, paid by yourself.
Call us on 01204 377600 or email email@example.com
* It is important to note that it is ultimately the Legal Aid Agency’s decision whether or not to award legal aid.