In the UK, if you require legal assistance but don’t have the money to pay for it, you can consider whether you are eligible to receive free legal aid. Legal aid is paid for by the government if you can prove that you are in a serious situation and that you cannot afford to pay for it.
Legal aid can cover legal advice or assistance in court and can be used in several situations including:
- There is a risk to you or your family of serious harm or abuse, such as forced marriage or domestic violence, for example.
- You face prison, have been detained, or have been accused of a crime.
- You are trying to add legal arguments or are bringing a case under the Human Rights Act.
- There is a risk of losing your home or homelessness.
- You need family mediation.
- You feel that you are being discriminated against.
- If you feel that you are receiving a poor quality of care due to special educational needs, age, or disability.
- If you have been in an abusive relationship and want advice on children, divorce, or financial matters.
- If there is a child in your family who is at risk of being taken into care.
- If you wish to challenge the way that the government has made a decision about you.
- If you are a victim of human trafficking or seeking asylum.
- If you need representation at an inquest or mental health tribunal.
- If you want to appeal a decision made by the social security tribunal regarding your benefits to the Upper Tribunal, Court of Appeal, or Supreme Court.
- Other exceptional cases.
If you are eligible for legal aid, you could be entitled to several different services. Including:
- Aid with any negotiations and paperwork relating to them.
- If you are appearing in court and need a solicitor or barrister to represent you.
- Help with advice and legal options.
- Assistance if you have been arrested and are at the police station.
How to apply for legal aid
If you believe that you are eligible for legal aid, you first should find a solicitor who provides legal aid services. They will be able to help you to apply for legal aid. The process involves:
- Filling in the relevant forms and applying online
- Collecting the correct evidence for the legal aid application
- Completing the checklist when it is appropriate
- Submitting the completed forms electronically or on paper, sending them to the Legal Aid Agency (LAA)
You will need to provide details of your income, savings, and the value of any property that you are an owner of. Those who are self-employed may need to also send a copy of their end-of-year accounts. If you are employed, your employers will be asked to give details about your salary, tax, and National Insurance that you are paying. They will not, however, be given any information about your case.
Once that the forms have been sent to the LAA, they will decide whether you are eligible for legal aid. This decision will normally take up to about 4 weeks, but it can take longer.
An emergency written application can be made, however, by your solicitors, which should come back within 2 – 3 days. A telephone or faxed emergency application can also be made if the solicitor deems it to be appropriate and the LAA will make their decision if they believe that it is urgent enough. If this is the case, the solicitor would normally be required to send the completed forms to the LAA within 5 days.
Categories of Law
There are two main categories of law where legal aid can be applied for. These are criminal cases and civil cases.
Criminal cases are normally cases where you have been arrested by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has decided to take you to court.
Civil cases are normally cases that would be decided by a tribunal or court, including housing problems, family matters, or debt.
Making a Civil application
If you are making a civil application for legal aid, you will be required to demonstrate three things:
- That you have a serious case
- That your case is eligible for legal aid
- You cannot afford to pay for your legal costs
It is important to remember that you might have to pay some money towards your legal costs or pay them back later.
Making a Criminal Application
If you have been arrested and are facing a criminal charge, your solicitor will be required to prove that you need legal aid. We offer legal aid here at Waldrons Solicitors.
Appealing a decision
If you wish to appeal a decision relating to legal aid, the LAA has an appeal procedure. You can appeal to the LAA who will initially consider the appeal internally. If the decision is overturned, the case will then proceed as normal. If it is not, you will be told why and whether you can take the appeal further through the Independent Funding Adjudicator (IFA).
If you have any other questions, please do not hesitate but to contact Waldrons Solicitors today.
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Last reviewed on 11/07/23 by Luke Boxall who is a Solicitor and Director