Legal Aid

British Sterling Pound GBP Coins And BanknotesIf you cannot afford to pay for legal advice or representation, you may be eligible to claim legal aid from the Legal Services Commission (LSC). There are different types of legal aid depending on the nature of the case:

  • legal advice on your rights and options based on your current situation, or help with negotiating agreements and filing legal paperwork
  • legal assistance, where  you can have someone speak for you but not formally represent you in a civil court matter
  • family mediation, where someone works out an agreement between you and a former partner without going to court
  • legal representation, where a solicitor or barrister prepares your case and speaks in your defence at a court or tribunal

Am I eligible for legal aid?

Your eligibility for legal aid will depend on the seriousness of the case, whether it is a civil or criminal matter, and your financial circumstances. You are automatically eligible for criminal legal aid if you are under 16 (or under 18 and in full-time education) or on certain benefits.

Criminal Legal Aid

Civil Legal Aid

At the police station

If you are arrested for a crime and/or taken to the police station to be interviewed under caution, you are entitled to free legal advice and representation from a Duty Solicitor. The Duty Solicitor will usually come down to the police and advise you before and during your interview. If it is a minor offence, the advice may be limited to over the telephone instead. The police must inform you of your right to free legal advice.

You are eligible to qualify for Civil Legal Aid if your case concerns:

  • welfare benefits
  • council tax reduction schemes
  • debt
  • housing
  • discrimination
  • education
  • (special educational needs)
  • immigration involving asylum
  • family, children and domestic abuse
  • mental health and community care

Advice and Assistance

Even you have not yet been charged with an offence, you may need general legal advice while you wait for the police to make inquiries and decide whether to charge you. This general advice is not covered by the free legal advice and representation provided by a Duty Solicitor, but you may be eligible for other types of publicly funded legal advice and assistance depending on your financial circumstances.

You can also get Civil Legal Aid for:

  • a court order to protect against harassment
  • appealing against a decision to stop you from working with children and vulnerable adults
  • advice and help on Disabled Facilities Grants
  • civil claims involving allegations of abuse and sexual assault
  • confiscation proceedings
  • injunctions for gang-related violence
  • inquests into the death of a family member
  • injunctions to stop a nuisance caused by environmental pollution
  • cross-border disputes

Representation in court

You may be eligible for legal aid-funded advice and representation at the Magistrates Court and/or Crown Court. This will depend on an “interests of justice” test (the seriousness of the offence and the likelihood that you will serve a custodial sentence if you are convicted) and a means based test.

If the offence can only be heard in the Crown Court then you will automatically pass the interests of justice test.

You are unlikely to qualify for legal aid if you have a high income.

If you currently receive income based Jobseeker's Allowance, income support or a guaranteed pension then you will automatically pass the means based test.

If your case goes to the Crown Court, where you automatically qualify for legal aid, you may be required to make a contribution towards the cost of your case if your monthly disposable income passes a certain threshold. The first payment is due within 28 days of your case being sent to the Crown Court. This payment will be refunded with interest if you are found not guilty. You are not required to pay any contribution if you are under 18 when you made your application for legal aid or if you currently receive income support, income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, Guaranteed State Pension Credit or Income-based ESA.

You cannot get Civil Legal Aid for:

  • consumer and other contractual disputes
  • most immigration cases
  • criminal Injuries compensation authority cases
  • private family law – divorce, dissolution of civil partnership, property, finance and children matters where there is no evidence of domestic violence or child abuse
  • personal injury or death
  • tort and other general claims, such as money claims and negligence
  • conveyancing (buying and selling property)
  • advice on will-making
  • law regarding the operation of a trust or a breach of a trust
  • company, partnership or business law
  • legal advice regarding a change of name
  • defamation or malicious falsehood

To qualify for Civil Legal Aid, your gross income, disposable income and gross capital must not be higher than certain thresholds. Your gross income will be assessed first, followed by your disposable income and finally your gross capital. If you own a home, this will form part of your gross capital for assessment but you may deduct your mortgage and any charges against it. If your gross capital is more than £3,000 then you may be required to pay a contribution towards the costs of your case. This will need to be paid up front and will be all of your capital over £3,000 up to the total cost of legal advice.

Statutory Charge

If your case has been funded by legal aid and, as a result of winning the case, you receive money or property, you may have to pay back some or all of the costs of your case. This is known as the statutory charge.

At the end of the case, any money awarded to your by the court will be paid to your solicitor. The Legal Aid Agency will then deduct your solicitors’ fees out of the money awarded, leaving you with the remainder.

If you have been awarded property which is also your home or the home of your dependants, or if you have been awarded money to be used to buy a home for yourself or your dependants, the statutory charge will be postponed and be registered as a charge against the property. This means that when you sell the property, you will have to pay the statutory charge to the Legal Aid Agency out of the money you receive from the sale. You will also have to pay interest of 8%. Another option is that you can pay off the charge in instalments. The charge will be removed from the property once it has been paid off in full. 

How do I claim?

In order to claim legal aid, your first point of contact will be:

  • a police custody officer if you’ve been arrested and held at a police station
  • your Duty Solicitor if you have been charged with an offence or have to go to court
  • a local legal adviser or solicitor if you need general advice on whether you qualify for legal aid

Alternatives to Legal Aid 

If you are unable to get legal aid for your case, there are other ways that you may receive free legal advice and assistance.

Citizen's Advice Bureau/Law Centres

The Citizen's Advice Bureau (CAB) offers free legal advice on various matters and in person at one of their offices. There are also independent law centres that offer legal advice and assistance in a similar way. CABs and law centres normally consist of volunteer advisers who may or may not be legally qualified, but have been given sufficient training in order to give appropriate advice. Unfortunately, they do not provide legal representation in courts or tribunals.

Law firm pro bono schemes

Some law firms will offer to take on a case on a 'pro bono' (free) basis. This may be because the outcome of the case will be within the public interest, or because its nature and complexity will add to the reputation of the firm if they are successful. This will be for your solicitor to decide and you will have to discuss it with them at first opportunity.

Household insurance

Some household insurance policies provide for legal advice and assistance on certain areas of law. It is important that you check your policy carefully before instructing any solicitors, since some policies may have restrictions on the legal advice such as:

  • which solicitor you are allowed to receive legal advice from
  • what cases are covered by the policy
  • whether the policy will cover legal representation in a court or tribunal as well as initial legal advice and assistance 

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