If you need legal help and don’t have the money to pay for it, you may be able to get legal aid. Legal aid provides free or low-cost legal assistance to people who can’t afford it and is funded by the government.
In this article, we will discuss how legal aid works, who can apply for it and what they can request assistance for. We will also talk about how to apply for legal aid, including how to do it online, over the phone and when you can request it in person at a legal service provider.
Who Provides Legal Aid?
Legal aid can be used for a variety of legal issues, including help with family law, employment law, immigration law, housing law, and more. There are several legal providers and services that offer legal aid. These include:
- Legal Aid Agency
- Crown Prosecution Service
- Criminal Defence Service
- Equality and Human Rights Commission
- Government Legal Department
- HM Courts & Tribunals Service
Who Can Apply for Legal Aid?
Legal aid is intended to support those who are unable to pay for legal counsel. This includes obtaining legal advice before a matter has progressed to court or tribunal as well as advice and representation at trial or tribunal.
You May be Able to Get Legal Aid if:
- You’re on a low income (combined household income of £2,656 or less, per month before tax. This threshold increases by £222 per month for large families, being the fifth and each additional child.).
- You’re receiving certain benefits.
- You have savings or property below a certain value (Total asset value including property, cash and investments of less than £8,000).
- Your case is considered to be of legal importance.
You must be a legal resident of the United Kingdom, typically for 12 months or more. And be 18 years of age and receive eligible benefits. Be between 16 and 18 years of age and studying full-time. Or be under the age of 16 years.
What You Can Request Legal Aid for
The types of cases that are eligible for legal aid are:
- Losing your home, or risk of homelessness including accommodation or repair if your home is in severe disrepair.
- Assistance to flee a vulnerable situation if you or your child are at risk of domestic violence, abuse, assault or forced marriage.
- Dispute of care for yourself or a family member (care related to age, physical disability, sensory impairment or learning difficulty).
- Financial assistance and advice for fleeing an abusive relationship.
- Child custody planning when exiting an abusive relationship.
- If a dependent in your family is at risk of going into care.
- Relationship mediation e.g. divorces and abusive relationships.
- Discrimination representation.
- Appealing a government decision.
- If you are a human trafficking victim or asylum seeker.
- Facing criminal charges, having been arrested or being questioned by police.
- Require representation for a mental health tribunal.
- Appealing decisions from the social security tribunal (appealing to the Upper Tribunal or Supreme Court).
If you are successful in your application for legal aid and your type of case is eligible you can request:
- Help to understand your rights and the options available to you
- Assistance and representation in negotiations or help completing paperwork
- Representation if you are accused of a criminal offence and/or held in police custody
- Courtroom representation for cases and/or tribunals including a solicitor or barrister as required to prepare and present your case.
How to Apply for Legal Aid
Legal aid used to be available through multiple avenues, however, applications are now taken online unless you are currently in police custody, in this case, an officer will assist you in accessing legal aid.
The first step is to confirm that you are eligible for legal aid (England and Wales).
If you are eligible you can have your legal adviser or family mediator apply for legal aid on your behalf. If you are eligible and successful in your application your legal costs will be paid to your service provider directly by the government.
Applying in Emergencies
Sometimes it is not possible to reasonably apply and await approval. In these cases you can request emergency legal aid to flee dangerous situations, this includes arranged marriages, abusive relationships or domestic violence situations where you or your dependents are at risk of harm.
Explain your situation to your legal adviser and they can apply for emergency legal representation to cover immediate necessary actions. Once you are out of immediate danger you will still have to apply for legal aid through the normal channel if ongoing support is required.
Legal Aid for Criminal Cases
If you are remanded in police custody you can have a police custody officer assist you in requesting legal aid.
For less serious offences you will be offered telephone support. You may also be provided help from the police station’s duty solicitor or be provided free advice from your own legal adviser.
Criminal Cases at Court
If you are taken to trial for a criminal offence a solicitor will check if you are eligible for legal aid. If you are deemed eligible your options are:
- Continue to receive advice from the same organisation or law firm that assisted you at the police station.
- Speak with the court’s duty solicitor.
- Contact and engage your own approved legal aid solicitor.
What is Required to Request Legal Aid?
Evidence of the following information is required for yourself and your domestic partner:
- Any benefits that either of you receives. You will need to provide your statements of benefits too.
- Demonstrate your income, such as pay slips, a copy of your bank statement showing your savings and evidence of your outgoing expenses such as bills and grocery receipts.
- Your National Insurance numbers
You will be required to provide copies of your case documentation also, for example:
- Documents about your court case, e.g. summons and/or police charges.
- Identity certificates e.g. birth certificates, marriage certificates and any other relevant identity documents or licences, etc.
- Other relevant documents or letters.