Legal Aid is a government funded scheme that helps individuals who are on low income access legal advice/representation. Once granted, a legal aid certificate will cover legal costs including Solicitor fees, counsel’s fees and disbursements such as court fees and any expert reports. A legal aid certificate does have limitations on it, usually limited to the type of work which is covered and also a costs limit.
Eligibility for legal aid in private children cases
There is a high threshold to meet the legal aid eligibility criteria. There is a three-part test:
- Means assessment
This focuses on your income and assets. If you are on Universal credit you will automatically satisfy this element. If you are working your disposable income must be less than £733 per month. If you are working you will be expected to pay a lump sum or a monthly contribution to your legal aid. This monthly sum will be calculated during the application.
- Merits assessment
This will assess whether there are legal merits to your case. For example, the Legal Aid Agency will be unlikely to fund a case where there is no reasonable prospects of success.
- Evidence of domestic abuse (gateway evidence)
In addition to the means and merits test above, ‘gateway evidence’ is needed showing that you are a victim of domestic violence from the other party to the proceedings. You will need to provide documentary evidence from an independent person such as a Doctor, Support Worker, Social Worker. The letter must follow a certain format and the Legal Aid Agency will only accept this evidence in this format. Sample letters that are acceptable to the Legal Aid Agency can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/sample-letters-to-get-evidence-of-domestic-violence
Eligibility for legal aid when seeking a Non-Molestation Order and/or an Occupation Order
The means and merits assessment above still applies, however there is no upper limit on income and capital. This means that legal aid will always be available but there could be a significant contribution to pay, depending on your income and capital. Evidence of domestic abuse does not need to be provided in order to get legal aid for protective orders such as Non-Molestation Orders and Occupation Orders.
What if I own property and savings?
The Legal Aid Agency will allow up to £8,000 of assets but you may be expected to pay a contribution or a lump sum.
If you own property you may be still eligible depending on if you satisfy the means and merits test. However, a charge may be placed on your property, this means once your property is sold a proportion of the equity will be paid to the Legal Aid Agency in the sum of the legal fees you have incurred in the proceedings.
There are certain Family Proceedings which will automatically entitle you to Legal Aid regardless of income or merits. This includes Public Care Proceedings, Child Abduction and International Contact.
Brethertons are here to answer any questions that you may have about legal aid, Children and Domestic Violence. Please do not hesitate to contact us on 01788 579579 or 01295 270999 firstname.lastname@example.org