One of the most frequent questions family law specialist Cathy O’Grady is asked is, ‘Can I get legal Aid?’ In this article she looks at the circumstances where Legal Aid is available for those in need of family law advice in Barnstaple and North Devon.
Full Legal Aid funding
Access to Legal Aid funding for family law has been restricted by the government in recent years. It is no longer sufficient to show that you have limited finances in order to qualify. The Legal Aid Agency now considers three things when an application is made for Legal Aid funding:
- Is there evidence of domestic abuse or risk of harm to a child?
The legal definition of domestic violence is very broad. Even if there was no physical violence or you never reported the abuse to anyone, it doesn’t mean that you wont qualify for Legal Aid
Showing that there is risk of a harm to a child can be difficult. However, a Child Protection Plan or letter from Children’s Services may be enough. The best thing to do is to talk through the options with us. We do not make a charge for having an informal initial chat.
- What are your financial means?
If you get one of the following benefits you should be financially eligible for Legal Aid:
- Income Support;
- income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance;
- Universal Credit, Guarantee Credit; or
- income-related Employment and Support Allowance.
The Legal Aid Agency will still need to see three months’ worth of bank statements up to the date you come in to make the application. You must provide statements for all accounts held in your name or to which you are a signatory. That includes joint accounts and third-party accounts, for example savings accounts you may have opened for your children.
If you are not in receipt of one of the above benefits you will need to provide additional information.
If you are working you will need to provide your three most recent pay-slips if you are paid monthly and your six most recent pay slips if you are paid weekly.
If you have a partner living with you their means will also be taken into account so they will need to provide bank statements, pay slips and any other relevant financial evidence.
The Legal Aid Agency will need to see evidence of your accommodation. If you are renting they will want a copy of your tenancy agreement and evidence of when and how much rent you pay. Evidence of any Housing Benefit must also be provided.
If you own a property you will need to evidence how it is owned (e.g. in joint names), how much it is worth and how much is left to pay on the mortgage.
You can have money in the bank and still be eligible for Legal Aid. There are strict limits on how much you can have of course. We can carry out an initial assessment by phone.
- Merits of your legal case
The final element to be assessed by the Legal Aid Agency is the legal merits of your case. They will consider how strong your case is and what your chances of success are.
The Legal Aid Agency may offer you Legal Aid subject to paying a contribution. This might be a one-off payment at the beginning of the case or it may be a monthly payment. If you are asked to pay on a monthly basis the payments must continue for the lifetime of the case. If you stop paying, your Legal Aid will be withdrawn.
Legal Aid funding where the Local Authority is involved with your family
In addition to full Legal Aid you may also be eligible for Legal Aid funding on the following basis:
Public Law Outline (PLO)
This is a meeting between parents and the Local Authority when the Local Authority is so worried about your child it is considering going to court. If you have received a letter from the Local Authority inviting you to a PLO meeting you are entitled to Legal Aid funded representation at that meeting, without any need to provide bank statements or any other information about your finances. You still need to sign a form and we will need your National Insurance Number.
If you are being taken to court by the Local Authority over concerns about your children you will be eligible for Legal Aid. You do not have to provide any evidence of your means. Your Legal Aid will stay in place until the court has made a final decision about your child.
If you have been asked to go to a Child Protection Conference we may be able to get Legal Aid funding to go with you to support you during that meeting. This type of Legal Aid is called Legal Help. You still need to show that you are financially eligible for Legal Aid and the work we can do under the Legal Help scheme is limited.
So, if you are wondering, ‘Can I get Legal Aid for a family law case in Barnstaple or North Devon?’ then please contact our Free Helpline on 01271 372128 or send an email to us at [email protected]