What is Legal Aid?
The legal system can be complex and daunting, especially if you are not familiar with it. This is where legal aid comes in – it provides access to legal support for those who need it most.
Legal aid covers the range of support available from the legal system for people who cannot afford to pay for legal help. This can include representation in court, legal advice, and assistance with paperwork.
Legal aid is available to anyone who meets certain criteria. In England and Wales, legal aid is usually only available for serious cases, typically those that are going to trial or tribunal. You must also pass a means test to show that you cannot afford to pay for private legal services.
There are several different types of legal aid available, depending on your situation. This article will introduce you to the main types of support that are available through legal aid in the UK.
What Cases can Legal Aid Help With?
Legal aid ensures that everyone has access to legal advice and representation. It prevents those who cannot afford legal assistance from being bullied or discriminated against in civil or criminal matters.
The types of assistance that legal aid can provide include:
Family law is a broad topic and encompasses many specialised areas of law. Legal aid provides a range of family-related legal advice and representation services. Primarily, legal aid can provide mediation for family matters related to the settlement of child custody or care disputes and financial settlements. Legal aid can also assist partners or children living in abusive relationships or at risk of domestic violence. In addition, legal aid is available to those at risk of or currently in arranged marriages.
There are several ways in which legal aid can provide housing assistance. Landlords are legally required to maintain rental properties in a safe and livable condition. If you are being harassed or bullied by a landlord or their agent, or repairs are not being carried out and your house poses a risk to you or your family, you may be eligible for legal aid. You can also seek legal aid if you are at risk of becoming homeless, such as being evicted from a rental property.
Legal aid can provide financial mediation services for those exiting abusive relationships to assist with achieving settlements. If you are facing financial hardship, debt foreclosure, unfair collection practices, are behind on mortgage payments or are at risk of foreclosure legal aid can provide free financial advice. Legal aid can also assist if your house is at risk due to forfeiture, seizure or forced sale as part of a separate legal case.
The Equity Act 2010 guarantees all citizens the right to live safely and freely without the threat of harm or unfair treatment based on age, sex, orientation, religion, physical or mental disability or other impairment. If you believe that your rights are at risk, or you have previously or are currently experiencing discrimination legal aid can help.
Assistance with Special Education Needs
If you are the parent or guardian of a child with special needs and you are unhappy with the support they are receiving or how care is being provided you can seek advice from legal aid. Further, if you require help to understand or claim the assistance available to you, a legal aid advisor can help. Specialist education support is available to children with sensory or physical impairments, learning disabilities, emotional disorders or clinical behavioural conditions you may be entitled to special education support.
Legal aid also provides criminal representation to those who are unable to pay for legal advice in criminal proceedings. Anyone facing questioning at a police station is entitled to free legal representation, if a matter goes to court and you cannot afford a lawyer, legal aid may cover all or part of the cost of representation. This is available if you are under 16 years of age, under 18 years of age and studying full-time, or over 18 years of age and a recipient of certain allowances.
Are You Eligible for Legal Aid?
In order to be eligible for legal aid, you must meet certain criteria. In England and Wales, legal aid is usually only available for serious cases, typically those that are going to trial or tribunal. You must also pass a means test to show that you cannot afford to pay for private legal services.
You can visit the UK government legal aid website to check if you are entitled to legal aid. This will also direct you to alternative support services if you are not eligible for legal aid.
How to Access Legal Aid
If you think you may be eligible for legal aid, the first step is to contact your local legal advice centre. You can find their details in the phone book or online. Alternatively, you can call the Legal Aid Agency on 0300 200 2020.