If you have been involved in any kind of legal dispute, then you will know that the law is both complex and expensive. However, if you are on a low income, then you may be entitled to Legal Aid. This is funded by the government to help those who cannot afford legal advice or representation to access legal help and justice despite their financial circumstances.
Read on for information about how legal aid works, and to find out if you are entitled.
Legal Aid Basics
Legal aid is funded and provided through The Legal Services Commission, and is available for either civil or criminal cases. Problems legal aid advice can help with are diverse. They can range from making a legal arrangement to deal with divorce disputes and settling issues surrounding access to children, employment problems, asylum and immigration, to challenging criminal charges.
Who Qualifies for Legal Aid?
Two tests must be passed to claim legal aid. The first is the ‘Interests of Justice’ test, which assess if a person is genuinely in need of legal advice, and would not understand the proceedings without legal help. The second test is a means test, which clarifies whether you can afford to pay yourself.
Legal aid is normally claimed by people on benefits or very low incomes. For civil legal aid cases, the general rule is that your gross income must be less than £31,884 a year (£2,657 a month). This figure includes your partner’s income, and you must also not have savings worth more than £8,000. Capital such as owning a home is not taken into account, but assets such as property or investments can be. When applying for legal aid, you will have to give details of your income. Should your ‘disposable income’ be any more than £8,796 a year (£733 a month), then you will probably have to pay. You will automatically qualify for legal aid, if you receive any of the following benefits:
- Income support
- Income based jobseeker’s allowance
- Guaranteed state pension credit
How to apply for Legal Aid
To access legal aid, it is necessary to find a solicitor who takes on legal aid cases. Whether you are living in Stoke in Trent or Southampton, a legal aid solicitor should be in your area. Once you have located a legal aid solicitor, you will need to arrange an interview. If the solicitor agrees to take you on, you can then fill in a legal aid form to assess your eligibility and to apply. It may also be necessary to sign further forms should your case go on. Changes to Legal Aid The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act will come into force on 1 April 2013, and some changes will be made to eligibility. If you are unable to access legal aid and are on a low income, then you can seek specialist help and advice for free from the Community Legal Advice Service.