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The ‘Legal Aid Agency’, has had several names over the years (Legal Services Commission, Legal Aid Board, Community Legal Service etc.)
It is now an executive Agency of the Ministry of Justice.
Whilst in the past it had laudable aims, to provide free representation to those who need and cannot afford it, recent cutbacks mean that is is now a cut down service which provides the bare minimum assistance for certain types of case, including abuse claims.
It provides much needed assistance to your solicitor, who may wish to investigate, and pursue an abuse claim. It will enable your solicitor to fund any expenses needed in your case, and avoid the need to charge you legal fees.
To read more, go the Legal Aid Agency Website.
To find out if you qualify financially do the online handy calculator which can be found here – https://www.gov.uk/check-legal-aid
Many organisations, including solicitors, offer a set period (often 30 minutes) of free initial advice.
Alternatively, some solicitors offer an interview (generally of 30 minutes) for a fixed fee. You should ask if these services are available. During this interview, the solicitor will determine whether your case might qualify for Public Funding / Legal Aid
There are 2 hurdles to overcome before Public Funding may be offered to you:
1. Legal Merits Test – It will be necessary to satisfy the Legal Aid Agency that the claim has merit, although you do not have to prove at this stage that you will be guaranteed to win your case;
2. You must satisfy certain financial requirements. You may be asked for details of your financial circumstances and you may be provided with a lengthy form to complete. The Legal Aid Agency will then assess whether you are financially eligible.
In simple terms, provided your ‘disposable’ income and capital (savings) are below certain limits, then you may qualify financial for Public Funding. The Assessment will not be made by the solicitor.
As a guide to whether you might qualify financially for public funding, use the Legal Services online calculator. As rules change so often this method ensures that the advice on this page will not go out of date. The link is https://www.gov.uk/check-legal-aid or http://civil-eligibility-calculator.justice.gov.uk/
If you receive certain types of benefit, known as “passported benefits”, then financially you will qualify automatically for Public Funding of your case. You must still satisfy the Legal Service’s Commission’s Merits test.
Initially, upon assessment of your financial situation, you may be required to pay a contribution to the Legal Services Commission towards the costs of your case. Failing to pay such a contribution or falling into arrears with it could result in the discharge of your Public Funding Certificate, leaving you liable for your costs after the Certificate is discharged.
In the event of your case proving unsuccessful, you can be obliged to pay whatever the Court considers reasonable towards your opponent’s legal costs in all the circumstances. Generally, where you are awarded Public Funding, you are afforded some protection against paying your opponent’s costs if the case is unsuccessful.
If you are successful in recovering compensation in your case, the Legal Services Commission would require that some or all of your legal costs be deducted from your compensation. How much is deducted will depend on what your opponent pays towards your legal costs. The amount recovered by way of legal costs from an opponent rarely covers the entire costs involved in preparing the case and the Legal Services Commission is entitled to deduct the difference from your compensation or settlement. This deduction is called a “Statutory Charge”.
Once you have been granted Public Funding, you have a duty to disclose any change in your circumstances including a change of address or financial means. If there is any increase in your financial means during the time you are in receipt of Public Funding, this may effect the amount of any contribution you have to pay towards the costs of the case. As soon as there is any change in your circumstances, you have a strict obligation to inform the Legal Services Commission.
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