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Help with legal costs - legal aid
If you need help with paying for legal advice, you may be able to get legal aid. You will have to meet the financial conditions for getting legal aid. In some cases, legal aid is free. In other cases, you may have to pay towards the cost.
Civil legal aid helps you pay for legal advice, mediation or representation in court with problems such as housing, debt and family.
The different types of civil legal aid
There are different types of legal aid which you can get which are:
- Legal Help – advice on your rights and options and help with negotiating
- Help at Court – someone speaks on your behalf at court, but does not formally represent you
- Family Mediation – helps you to come to an agreement in a family dispute after your relationship has broken down without going to court. It can help to resolve problems involving children, money and the family home
- Family Help – help or representation in family disputes like drawing up a legal agreement
- Legal Representation – representation at court by a solicitor or barrister
- Controlled Legal Representation – representation at mental health tribunal proceedings or before the First-tier Tribunal in asylum or immigration cases.
Legal aid services can be provided only by organisations which have a contract with the Legal Aid Agency (LAA). These include solicitors in private practice, law centres and some Citizens Advice Bureaux.
For more information about how to find a legal adviser who does legal aid work, see Using a legal adviser
You can only get civil legal aid for the following types of cases:
- appeals to the Upper Tribunal, Court of Appeal or Supreme Court.
Council tax reduction schemes
- appeals to the High Court, Court of Appeal or Supreme Court.
- court action by your mortgage lender because of mortgage arrears.
- court action by a creditor to force you to sell your home
- a creditor is making you bankrupt.
- court action to evict you from your home because of rent arrears
- eviction from your home
- you are homeless and need help from the council with being re-housed
- your rented home is in serious disrepair
- you are being harassed and need a court order to protect you
- your landlord or the council is taking you to court to get an anti-social behaviour order or anti-social behaviour injunction against you.
- you have been discriminated against and this is against the law. The law protects you from being discriminated against by employers, education, housing and service providers, public bodies such as the Council and associations like sports clubs.
Education (Special Educational Needs)
- appeals against Special Educational Needs assessments by the council
Immigration and asylum
- asylum applications
- you have been detained
- you are applying to settle in the UK (known as indefinite leave to remain) because your relationship has broken down because of domestic violence
- you are an EC citizen and are applying to stay in the UK because your relationship has broken down because of domestic violence
- you are applying to stay in the UK because you are a victim of trafficking
- proceedings before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission
- you have received a Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measure notice
- applications for asylum support, but only if you have applied for housing and financial support.
Family, children and domestic abuse
You can get legal aid:
- for private family law matters, for example, divorce, dissolution of civil partnership, property, finance and children matters where there is evidence of domestic violence or abuse or child abuse. Domestic violence or abuse covers psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional abuse.
- if you're a victim of domestic violence or are at risk of being a victim of abuse, need advice on your rights to stay in your home and need a court order to protect you
- if you're a victim of domestic violence or are at risk of being a victim of abuse and need advice on family matters such as divorce, financial disputes or disputes about children
- if you need to protect a child who is at risk of abuse - for example, you need to apply to court to prevent someone who has abused a child from having contact with them
- for family mediation
- for family court proceedings if you are a child
- if you need protection from being forced into marriage or because you have been forced into marriage
- if the local authority is taking court proceedings to take your child into care
- to stop children being removed from the UK or to get them returned if they have been unlawfully removed
- to enforce European Union and international agreements about children and maintenance.
There are very strict rules about the proof that you have to show to qualify for legal aid in these cases.
- advice if someone has been detained or 'sectioned'
- applications to Mental Health Tribunals
- Court of Protection work
- appeals against DOLS (Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards).
- for community care cases. Community care services are arranged by the council for people with care needs such as home help.
You can also get legal aid for:
- a court order to protect you from harassment
- an appeal against a decision stopping you from working with children and vulnerable adults
- advice and help on Disabled Facilities Grants
- civil claims relating to allegations of abuse and sexual assault
- confiscation proceedings
- an injunction for gang-related violence
- an inquest into the death of a member of your family
- an injunction to stop a nuisance caused by environmental pollution
- cross-border disputes.
What cases can't you get civil legal aid for?
You can't get legal aid for the following types of cases:
- consumer and other contractual disputes
- most immigration cases
- Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority cases
- private family law, for example, divorce, dissolution of civil partnership, property, finance and children matters, other than cases where there is evidence of domestic violence or abuse or child abuse. Domestic violence or abuse covers psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional abuse
- personal injury or death
- tort and other general claims
- advice on will-making
- matters of trust law
- company or partnership law
- business law
- legal advice in relation to a change of name
- defamation or malicious falsehood.
What are the financial conditions for getting civil legal aid?
Your income and capital must be within certain limits to get civil legal aid.
Legal aid if you're getting benefits
If you or your partner receive a passporting benefit, your income will not be looked at to see if you qualify for legal aid. However, your capital will be looked at.
The passporting benefits are:
- Income Support
- income-related Employment and Support Allowance
- income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
- guarantee credit part of Pension Credit
- Universal Credit.
You will get legal aid for an asylum problem if you receive government asylum support.
Legal aid if you have income
If your gross monthly income is over £2,657 you won’t get legal aid. ‘Gross income’ means before tax and national insurance are taken off and it excludes certain social security benefits. If you have more than four children, this limit goes up by £222 for the fifth and each additional child. You have to include your partner’s income unless your partner is the person who you are in dispute with.
If your gross monthly income is £2,657 or less, your solicitor or adviser will then check what your disposable income is. ‘Disposable income’ is the amount of income you have left after deductions have been made for national insurance, tax, maintenance, housing costs and certain other expenses. Also, if you have a partner living with you or if you have dependent children or other dependents, a certain amount of your income won't be taken into account. If your partner is earning, their income will be taken into account, unless your partner is the person who you are in dispute with.
To qualify for legal aid, your disposable monthly income can’t be more than £733.
If you are within this limit, you don’t have to pay anything towards Legal Help. But if your monthly disposable income is over £315, you will have to pay a monthly contribution if you’re getting Legal Representation. The amount of the contribution depends on your income.
Legal aid if you have capital
If you have disposable capital (savings) of over £8,000, you won’t get legal aid. Disposable capital includes:
- money in the bank
- valuable items
- the value of your home (if you own it). This depends on how much the property is worth and how much your mortgage is.
You have to include your partner’s capital unless your partner is the person who you are in dispute with.
If you are getting Legal Representation and your disposable capital is under £3,000, you won't have to pay a contribution towards the costs of your case.
If you have more than £3,000 of disposable capital, you will have to pay a contribution towards the costs of your case. This contribution has to be paid straight away and it will be all of the capital you have over £3,000 up to the total cost of the legal advice.
If you own a home
If you own a home, it will be considered as capital. However, not all the value of your home will be taken into account. You can deduct your mortgage or any charges on your home, up to a maximum of £100,000. This is called mortgage disregard. You can also deduct 3% of the market value of your home (the amount for which it could be sold for on the open market) for sales costs.
The market value of your home is £150,000.
Your mortgage is £90,000.
3 % for sale costs = £4,500.
The capital that’s taken into account is £55,500 (£150,000 - £4,500 - £90,000).
If you jointly owned the property, and you owned an equal half, your capital would be £27,500 (half of £55,500).
If you’re over 60
If you are over 60, some of your capital can be disregarded in addition to any mortgage disregard. How much of your capital is disregarded depends on how much spare income you have each month. For example, if your spare income is between £0-£25, your disregarded capital is £100,000. If your spare income is between £226-£315 your disregarded capital is £10,000. If your spare income is over £315, none of your capital will be disregarded – although the mortgage disregard may still apply.
If you have had legal aid and the result of your case is that you kept or gained money or property, you will probably have to pay back some or all of the costs of your case. This is called the statutory charge.
At the end of your case, any money you are awarded is normally paid to your solicitor. The legal aid agency will take what has been spent on your solicitor out of the award and you will get what's left.
In some cases, payment of the statutory charge can be postponed if:
- the property you won in the case is your home or the home of your dependants
- the money you won in the case is to be used to buy a home for yourself or your dependants.
Make sure your solicitor or adviser gives you full details about the effects of the statutory charge before you decide to go ahead with your case.
How to apply for civil legal aid
If you're not sure whether you can get legal aid, you can use the 'Can you get legal aid?' tool on the GOV.UK website. Go to www.gov.uk.
The Civil Legal Advice helpline on 0345 345 4345 can also advise you on whether you are eligible for legal aid.
Civil legal aid for debt, discrimination or special educational needs cases
You must apply through the Civil Legal Advice helpline for debt, discrimination or special educational needs cases.
If you are eligible for civil legal aid, you may be able to get help from the Civil Legal Advice helpline. The Civil Legal Advice helpline gives free, independent and confidential advice on the following matters:
- welfare benefits
The helpline number is: 0345 345 4345. It is open from 9am to 8.00pm, Monday to Friday and from 9am to 12.30pm on a Saturday. Calls cost no more than 4p a minute from a BT landline. Calls from mobiles are usually more.
If you're worried about the cost of the phone-call, you can ask an adviser to call you back. You can text 'legalaid' and your name to 80010 and an adviser will call you back within 24 hours.
The helpline has a translation service if you would like advice in a language other than English or Welsh.
There is also a minicom service for people who are deaf, hard-of-hearing or speech-impaired and a type-talk service for people with hearing difficulties.
You can also get advice online from their website at www.gov.uk.
Legal aid in criminal cases is organised by the Legal Aid Agency. There are different types of help you might be able to get, depending on your circumstances.
You should get advice from a solicitor who will assess whether you are eligible for legal aid.
Free legal advice at the police station
If you are at the police station, you have the right to free independent legal advice from a duty solicitor. This does not depend on your financial circumstances. Your request will be passed to the Defence Solicitor Call Centre. Alternatively you can choose your own solicitor and won't have to pay for advice if they have a contract with the Legal Aid Agency. The Call Centre will contact your solicitor for you.
If you're under arrest, you have the right to consult a solicitor at any time unless it is a serious case when this right can be postponed. You must be given an information sheet explaining how to get legal help.
For more information about your right to legal advice at the police station, see Your rights on arrest in Police Powers.
Help before you're charged with a criminal offence
You could get help with a criminal case even if you haven't been charged with a criminal offence. For example, a solicitor could give general advice, write letters or get a barrister's opinion. This type of help is called Advice and Assistance.
You will get Advice and Assistance if you get Income Support, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, the guarantee credit part of Pension Credit or Universal Credit. If you get Working Tax Credit, you might get Advice and Assistance depending on your income and personal circumstances.
If you are not getting one of these benefits or Working Tax Credit, you will only get Advice and Assistance if your income and savings are below a certain amount.
You should get advice from a solicitor who will assess whether you are eligible for advice and assistance.
Help with representation at court
There are three ways you could be helped if you need to be represented in court for a criminal offence.
A Representation Order
A Representation Order covers representation by a solicitor and, if necessary, by a barrister in criminal cases.
To qualify for a Representation Order in the magistrates' court, you must meet certain financial conditions. You'll automatically meet these conditions if you're under 18. Also you'll automatically meet the conditions if you’re getting Income Support, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, the guarantee credit part of Pension Credit or Universal Credit. Otherwise, the financial conditions depend on your gross income and whether you have a partner and/or dependent children. If your gross annual income, which when adjusted to take into account any partner or children, is over £22,325, you will not be eligible for a Representation Order. However, in some cases it may be possible to apply for a review on the grounds of hardship.
If you do meet the financial conditions, you'll usually get help with representation in a criminal case in the magistrates' court, as long as it's in the interests of justice that you are legally represented. This means, for example, if you are likely to go to prison or lose your job if you are convicted.
In the Crown Court, it will automatically be in the interests of justice that you are legally represented. But you might have to contribute towards the cost of your legal representation from your income or capital.
If you have a disposable income above £283.17 per month, you will have to make five contributions from your income. If you are late paying, you will have to make one extra payment.
If you are found guilty and have capital over £30,000, you may be asked to pay a contribution from your capital.
However, you will not be entitled to legal aid representation if your disposable annual income is £37,500 or more and you will have to pay privately for your costs.
If you are found not guilty, your payments will be refunded to you.
To apply for a Representation Order, ask for an application form at the court dealing with your case or speak to your solicitor.
Advocacy Assistance covers the costs of a solicitor preparing your case and initial representation in certain cases such as:
- prisoners facing disciplinary charges
- prisoners with a life sentence who are referred to the Parole Board
- warrants of further detention.
You don't have to meet any financial conditions to qualify for Advocacy Assistance, except if it's a prison hearing.
Free advice and representation at the magistrates' court
If you didn't get legal advice before your case comes up at the magistrates' court, you can get free legal advice and representation by the court duty solicitor. This does not apply to less serious cases such as minor driving offences but it could cover cases of non-payment of council tax.
You do not have to meet any financial conditions to get free advice and representation at the magistrates' court.
The court staff will tell you how to find the duty solicitor.
If you wish to start court action, you will need to pay a court fee. You can find further information about court fees on the HM Courts and Tribunal Service website at www.justice.gov.uk. If you're on a low income, you can get help with paying all or some of the court fee. This is called a fee remission.
If you are receiving Legal Representation or Family Help (Higher) you cannot apply for a fee remission as your solicitor will pay your court or tribunal fee for you. If you receive advice under Family Help (Lower) where a consent order is being applied for, your solicitor will also pay your court or tribunal fees for you.
You can apply for a fee remission if you are receiving:
- Legal Help
- Help at Court
- Family Help (Lower) except where a consent order is being applied for.
You can ask the court to tell you how to apply for a fee remission or you can get more information and the form EX 160A which can be used to apply for a fee remission from HM Courts and Tribunals Service at www.justice.gov.uk
Other sources of free or affordable legal help
If you are not able to get legal aid, there may be other sources of free or affordable legal help.
For more information about free or affordable legal help, see Help with legal costs - free or affordable legal help.