Ian Walker Divorce Lawyer Photo headshotLegal Aid and Social Services

On our legal aid homepage we have tried to give a general outline about how legal aid works in family law cases.

This page deals specifically with legal aid for cases involving social services.

Legal Aid and Social Services: parents and those with parental responsibility for children

There are four basic scenarios where you might need legal advice/representation.

Social services have made an application to the court for a Care Order or Supervision Order

If social services have made an application to the court for a Care Order or a Supervision Order, then parents and those with parental responsibility for the children who are the subject of the proceedings are entitled to free legal aid

this type of legal aid is not means tested

for this legal aid you do not have to have a reasonable chance of winning the case. (The legal aid is not merits tested).

If a court application has been made or you have been told that the court application is going to be made – all you need to do is to give us a call. We will be able to take some details from you and we will sort out your legal aid with the legal aid agency.

The legal aid will cover all of your costs in the whole court case.

This free legal aid is available to parents and those with parental responsibility for children to ensure that they receive a fair hearing and their human rights are respected.

We have one of the strongest and most experienced teams of children law specialists in the South-West and will almost always be able to assist a parent or person with parental responsibility in this type of case.

Parents who are a couple are each entitled to have their own solicitor and their own legal aid – as are separated parents.

This free legal aid scheme is also the means by which children are themselves legally represented in the court proceedings.

This type of legal aid is certificated work. We have explained what this means on our legal aid homepage

If you are in this situation – give us a call.

If social services have sent you a letter inviting you to a meeting and the letter says that they are considering whether to take you to court.

Free legal aid is also available to parents and those with parental responsibility in this situation.

The legal aid is not means tested.

The legal aid is not dependent on you having a reasonable chance to change the mind of social services.

The legal aid is available to parents and those with parental responsibility to ensure that they have legal representation at the meeting being called by social services. This is to protect the rights of the parents and those with parental responsibility.

If you are in this situation please give us a call.

For the legal aid to start we will need you to sign a form and we will also need a copy of the letter from social services threatening the court action.

We can normally get the letter about the meeting directly from the solicitor representing social services.

There are circumstances where the form can be signed and posted, or can be signed electronically, or the form can be signed at the meeting.

We are almost always able to assist parents and those with parental responsibility with this type of case.

If the meeting ends with a decision by social services to proceed to court then the the parent or person with parental responsibility becomes eligible for free certificated legal aid (see above).

This type of legal aid is controlled work – which we have explained on the legal aid homepage.

If there are no court proceedings and social services have not threatened to take you to court

An example of this type of situation could be:

your child is subject to a child in need or child protection plan and you need some advice before a meeting.

Social services are assisting your family – or want to assist your family – you are not sure what to do and want to know what your rights are?

There have been previous court proceedings and your children are in care or have gone to live with another family member. You want to increase contact or you want to know if there is a reasonable chance of getting them back into your care?

Legal aid is available for advice for these types of situation.

This initial advice legal aid is at the controlled work level (see the legal aid homepage).

The legal aid is subject to a means test.

We will oversee the means test on behalf of the Legal Aid Agency. (The Legal Aid Agency will check our files later).

We will need to have means evidence covering the last calendar month up until our meeting.

This will include copies of payslips and bank statements of you and any partner who is living with you. We will need to have letters/other evidence which confirms the benefits you are receiving.

Generally speaking – if you are in receipt of universal credit or have no income – you should qualify for this type of legal aid. If you are working – but do not qualify for universal credit, you are unlikely to qualify.

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 you tick the third box.

There is a form that needs to be signed to activate the legal aid. In normal circumstances you would need to come to our office in Exeter to do this.

There are some circumstances in which the form can be signed by emails or by posting it to us.

There have been previous court proceedings. Your children are subject to a care order. You would like representation in further court proceedings.

The further court proceedings could cover scenarios like:

  • contact with a child in care
  • representation to defend adoption proceedings (or pre-adoption proceedings known as placement proceedings).
  • You want representation to apply to discharge the care order.

In other words, the proceedings are not the initial proceedings for a care order or supervision order.

Legal aid for these cases is means tested.

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 you tick the third box.

Legal aid for these cases is also merits tested.

This means that you need to demonstrate to the legal aid the that you have a reasonable prospect of success.

Demonstrating that you have a reasonable prospect of success will normally mean being able to demonstrate that your circumstances have changed/improved since the original court case.

Examples of change could be:

  • having completed recommended long-term therapy,
  • having successfully beaten a drug or alcohol addiction,
  • having been released from prison and become re-established in the everyday world,
  • having perhaps formed a new and positive relationship and maybe having further children about him social services are not concerned.

Before applying for this type of legal aid – which is certificated work, we will need to have met with you and discussed what went wrong in the original case and to understand from you what changes have been made. This will allow us to assess whether we can persuade the legal aid agency that you have reasonable prospects of success.

Legal aid and social services: grandparents and other family members

Legal Aid for advice and representation for grandparents and other family members is more restricted than it is for parents.

Grandparents and other family members do not qualify for the free legal aid.

Eligibility for legal aid includes a means test.

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 you tick the third box.

The means test includes a capital test. The legal aid agency will want to know how much equity you have in your house. Grandparents on low income sometimes pass the income test – but failed the capital test.

If this happens, there are circumstances where social services will pay for grandparents to be represented. This would normally be in situations where the social worker wants the grandparent or other family member to agree to look after a child through a Special Guardianship Order, or the grandparent or other family member has been accused of causing harm to the child – and needs to have legal representation at a fact-finding hearing.

Eligibility for legal aid for representation also depends upon a merits test. This means that we would need to justify to the legal aid agency that there is a reasonable case.

More on this topic

Our Legal Aid Homepage
Our Legal Aid Homepage

More information about how the legal aid scheme works.

Read more
Child Law Involving Social Services
Child Law Involving Social Services

Find out more about children law involving social services and our expert team.

Read more
More about Public Law Outline or PLO meetings called by social services before court action
More about Public Law Outline or PLO meetings called by social services before court action

Parents and those with parental responsibility are entitled to free representation at these pre-court proceeding meetings.

Read more
Team
Team

We have one of the strongest teams of children law experts in the South-West

Read more