What Is UK Legal Aid?
Legal Aid in the UK can help cover the costs of legal advice, family mediation, and representation in a court or tribunal. It can either partially or fully cover the costs subject to eligibility and case.
Introduced in 1941, under the Legal Aid and Advice Act, Legal Aid began as a means to create better access to Legal Aid in the UK for citizens. Originally, over 80% of British people were eligible to access Legal Aid. Following this, Legal Aid has witnessed cuts resulting in fewer people now qualifying for it.
Nonetheless, Legal Aid is still free to access in the UK for those that qualify. This article explores all the key facts regarding Legal Aid, such as who and how one can access it in the UK alongside what specifically for.
Who Qualifies for Legal Aid?
Generally, those on a low income or in a serious legal dilemma can access Legal Aid in the UK. For instance, if you are at risk of losing your home, or an individual or their family member is at risk of violence such as domestic abuse can access Legal Aid.
The two main factors which will determine if you can access Legal Aid are:
- Income: Whether your financial situation deems you eligible for Legal Aid
- Type of case: The specific type of case will determine if Legal Aid is available
An individual who is being assessed for Legal Aid will be means tested. In short, this means they will be assessed based on their income, whether they have any children and how many as well as their living costs (such as mortgage or rent payments).
Most applications for Legal Aid are means-tested. However, civil cases such as those regarding mental health or care may not be.
Hugo Anglesford of Doddler comments: “When it comes to Legal Aid in the UK, it is really important that those that need the legal assistance it offers are indeed able to easily access what they need. It is part and parcel of a functioning justice system and remains very important. People should not have to turn to short-term finance options like payday loans online when it comes to seeking justice.”
Types of Cases Covered
Legal Aid covers both criminal and civil cases.
Within these categories, there are various types of legal cases in that an individual can get financial legal assistance with. For example:
- Asylum and immigration
- Criminal cases
- Mental health
- Welfare benefits
There are also other types of legal cases where an individual may be able to access financial assistance, especially in exceptional circumstances.
To access Legal Aid, a claim must be made to the Magistrate’s Court. Then, two tests must be passed to receive assistance.
The two tests that an individual will need to pass are:
1 – Interest of Justice (IoJ) Test
This test will consider the case based on:
- Previous convictions
- Nature of the offence
- Risk of custody
2 – Means Testing
This test focuses on an individual’s financial situation. All outgoing expenses and income is considered. For example, any housing payments like a mortgage or rent, utility bills alongside an individual’s savings and income will all be considered.
Those that qualify for income support from the government, such as through Universal Credit or a guaranteed pension, will qualify automatically for Legal Aid.
Accessing Free Help
Everyone in the UK, regardless of income, is entitled to free legal advice if held in custody at a police station. Similarly, people may be able to access free legal advice throughout other legal stages.
Some charities and lawyers in the UK offer help if you can’t access Legal Aid. Law centres across the UK have trained legal advisors who can help with various legal cases. In rare cases, individuals may be entitled to ‘exceptional case funding’ if rejected for Legal Aid.
If Legal Aid is not an option, then an individual may also seek a more affordable solicitor. Some solicitors operate on a ‘no win no fee’ basis, while others will even provide 30 minutes of advice for free. Taking notes before such appointments can ensure you get the most out of the appointment.
There are also many other legal avenues, such as through Trade Unions and insurance policies which may mean you can find free or subsidised legal assistance.