After the dramatic changes to the Legal Aid system in April 2013, many clients are left unsure as to whether they are entitled to legal aid.
Legal aid is still available on a non-means, non-merits, tested basis for care proceedings and abduction proceedings. Legal aid is also available to all for proceedings in relation to domestic abuse (and other limited cases such as wardship) but is means-tested (you can’t have too much income or capital) and merits-tested.
For the majority of family matters, including private law Children Act matters, divorce, and financial claims, legal aid is now only available in very limited circumstances.
However, it is still available. In order to be eligible for legal aid for private children, divorce, or financial claims, you have to be means-eligible, merits-eligible, and also have evidence of either domestic violence or child abuse.
The means assessment is complicated. There are a variety of income and capital caps (depending on the number of children in the household) but the essential tenet is that client’s disposable income must be below £733.00 per calendar month.
However, the Legal Aid Agency assessed disposable income differently to how a layperson might. The assisted person also has to have capital of less than £8,000.00, but there are a variety of elements which are exempt from this capital test (such as up to £100,000.00 worth of assets if they are in dispute in the case).
The easiest way to assess your financial eligibility is to go to the eligibility calculator on the gov.uk website.
Merits eligibility has two significant aspects. The first is that the case has a reasonable prospect of success, and the second is that a reasonable privately paying client would choose to pay for these services. Your lawyer will be able to advise you if your case does not have sufficient prospects of success to meet this merits test.
There are also other merit tests in relation to specific types of proceedings, which we can discuss with you should your case Fall into this category.
The final requirement for representation in divorce, financial, or private children matters is that there must be evidence of domestic abuse in the relationship, or child abuse (for children matters only).
Domestic abuse is a broad term, which includes emotional, psychological, sexual, physical, and financial abuse. Child abuse is generally considered to have four aspects: emotional, physical and sexual abuse, and neglect.
In order to prove that there is either domestic violence or child abuse in the family, evidence must be provided. The evidential guidelines are very strict as to what evidence is required.
If you have any questions about legal aid, we have legal aid experts in both our Exeter and Plymouth offices. Please do not hesitate to get in touch if you wish to discuss legal aid further or would like more information.