Ian Walker

Ian Walker – Mediator and Collaborative Family Lawyer

Legal Aid

Legal Aid is an important part of the welfare state as it allows access to the justice system to those who would not otherwise be able to afford to.

We are committed to providing a Legally Aided Service.

Our practice was founded in 2013 and we have held contracts with the Legal Aid Agency to provide a legally aided service since the very start.

There are different rules about eligibility for legal aid for different types of case.

In order to make life easier, this page is about legal aid generally. Here are links to separate pages concerning eligibility for legal aid for cases with social services, other family law cases and family mediation.

If you are a parent or have parental responsibility for a child and social services are taking you to court or have sent you a letter which threatens to take you to court about this child – then legal aid is readily available. It is not subject to a means test. You do not need to demonstrate that you have a good case. You simply need to give us instructions. If you are in this situation then you will want to get in touch with us straightaway because we have a very strong team of lawyers who specialise in social services cases

 

Types of Legal Aid

There are essentially two types of legal aid.

Controlled work

Controlled legal aid work is an initial level of legal aid. It does not cover court proceedings.

There will be a form which the person applying for legal aid will need to complete with us and then sign.

In cases where social services have written a letter to a parent or person with parental responsibility threatening to take them to court – but inviting them to a meeting first – then there is no means test. The parent or person with parental responsibility simply needs to complete and sign the relevant legal aid form. We need to have a copy of the social services letter on our file. We can normally obtain this from the solicitor for social services.

In other cases – there will be a means test. The Legal Aid Agency ask us to carry out the means test on their behalf and to gather together the evidence to prove financial eligibility. The Legal Aid Agency will visit our office from time to time and they will check our case files to make sure that we have obtained the correct evidence to prove that a person is eligible to receive this type of legal aid.

This type of legal aid is used for family mediation and initial advice (including about social services).

There are detailed rules about eligibility and it is easiest to cover these on the separate pages concerning eligibility for legal aid for cases with social services, other family law cases and family mediation.

Certificated Work

Certificated work is for court work. The person seeking legal aid needs to apply for legal aid through a solicitor. Their eligibility for the legal aid is then assessed by the Legal Aid Agency and if eligible the client is issued with a Legal Aid Certificate.

The legal aid certificate will make clear what work can be carried out. For example, if the certificate relates to obtaining an emergency protective injunction – it will not cover issues about child arrangements, unless that work has also been approved.

As well as placing limitations on the scope of the work that can be carried out, the legal aid certificate will also place limitations on the amount of work that we can do. This is known to us as a cost limitation. If we need to do more work than initially envisaged, we will need to go back to the legal aid agency for permission to do this.

If social services are taking a parent or person with parental responsibility to court concerning the care of their child (care proceedings) – there is no means test for financial eligibility. There is no merits test either. This means that the parent or person with parental responsibility does not need to show they have a good chance of winning. They are entitled to legal aid because their human rights require this. The state (in the form of the local authority social services department) are taking the parent to court – and the parent needs to be represented so that they have a fair hearing. When these cases start – we will sort out the legal aid with the legal aid agency and the parent/person with parental responsibility doesn’t need to sign any forms.

With other certificated work there will be a long means form (even where the person applying for legal aid is in receipt of universal credit).

There is a long application form in which the applicant needs to demonstrate that they have reasonable prospects of winning their case. The legal age and the apply what is known as a merits test. If the legal aid and do not agree that the person seeking legal aid has a good case – then the legal aid will be refused. (There is a right of appeal).

If the person seeking legal aid is applying for an injunction order for their own protection or an emergency order for the protection of their child – then there are simply the means forms and the merits forms to complete.

If the person seeking legal aid is applying for legal aid to bring a case concerning child arrangements (including what used to be known as residence or contact) or for representation in financial proceedings relating to a divorce – then the person seeking legal aid will also need to produce gateway evidence. This is evidence of past domestic abuse or risk to a child. The legal aid agency rules are very specific about what counts as sufficient gateway evidence. This would normally be either a previous court order or it could be a letter from an approved professional. The professionals letter has to say certain things – and the legal aid and publish template letters which will ensure that the professional (e.g. a doctor or social worker) have covered the right things in their gateway letter.

As you will appreciate, obtaining all of the relevant evidence can take a bit of time. There are arrangements for the vulnerable to obtain emergency legal aid in order to deal with a specific emergency – but the full evidence requirements still need to be met and the full evidence needs to follow.

The Legal Aid Eligibility Checker

there is an eligibility checker on the legal age and website. This checker does not include the full means test. It is more centred on the type of case. Here is the Legal Aid Checker.

Legal Aid Financial Eligibility Calculator

On the Legal Aid Agency Website – which is generally intended for professionals – there is a financial eligibility calculator. Here is a link to the Civil Legal Aid Eligibility Calculator

After you press start you go onto a page which are some questions which need to be answered before the calculator starts– the answer to question 1. For our purposes is either the second box if you are needing an injunction order, but otherwise the third box.

As a general guide, unless someone has no income – it is unlikely they will be financially eligible for legal aid unless they are in receipt of Universal Credit.

Remember – for assistance with cases brought by social services, the means test does not apply.

Gateway evidence

Here is a link to a PDF of the detailed legal aid and guidance about what gateway evidence is required to prove eligibility for legal aid. (Version 10 dated 15 May 2020)

Here is a link to the templates of the sample letters which need to be prepared by a professional to prove eligibility for legal aid

More

If you go through to the other pages in our legal aid section which are linked above – they will give you more specific information about the different legal aid schemes.

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