To be able to offer legal aid to clients, a solicitor firm has to hold a legal aid franchise from the Legal Aid Agency and it’s fair to say Cunningtons are a rare breed as one of the few firms in the area to maintain a legal aid franchise.

To be able to offer legal aid to clients, a solicitor firm has to hold a legal aid franchise from the Legal Aid Agency and it’s fair to say Cunningtons are a rare breed as one of the few firms in the area to maintain a legal aid franchise.

Clients who receive legal aid don’t usually have to pay their solicitor themselves; the Legal Aid Agency pays your solicitor instead (subject to a ‘contribution’ or ‘statutory charge’ explained below).

We hold a legal aid franchise for family law which means we can offer legal aid to clients who qualify and need help with: divorce, financial arrangements following a divorce, child arrangements following a separation, obtaining protective injunctions (such as non-molestation orders or occupation orders) or representing parents in public law Children Act proceedings.

Clients need to qualify for legal aid and the rules regarding this are strict. Clients usually have to pass a Means test and a Merits test. The Means test is complicated and clients need to have a very low income.

Clients must be prepared to provide a lot of documentary evidence and the Legal Aid Agency sets out a strict calculation for what they do and don’t take into account when it comes to income and outgoings.

Clients must also pass the Merits test which means they have to be able to provide evidence that they have been the victim of domestic violence OR evidence that their children are at risk of suffering abuse.

What evidence is required?

The Legal Aid Agency provides a specific list of evidence that they will accept, so clients need to be able to provide one of those specific pieces of evidence.

For that reason, it is unlikely that a respondent in Injunction proceedings will qualify for legal aid unless the allegations are of the most serious in nature and there are linked child arrangements issues.

Exceptions to the Means and Merits test

There are some exceptions to the Means and Merits test. Notably when a client is seeking legal aid to help with public law Children Act proceedings, such as where the local authority has told the client that they are thinking about taking their children into care due to concerns that the children are not being looked after properly.

In that situation, the parents are automatically entitled to legal aid and do not have to pass the Means or Merits test.

Paying for Family Law solicitors with Legal Aid

If you are eligible for legal aid, you don’t have to pay your family law solicitors to represent you. Instead, they are paid by the Legal Aid Agency.

However, you may be asked by the Legal Aid Agency to pay a ‘contribution’ towards your legal costs if your income is low but not low enough.

Also, if your Legal Aid solicitors assist you to recover money, say if they successfully argue that you are entitled to a share of a property or to receive a lump sum from your ex-spouse, you are obliged to reimburse the Legal Aid Agency from that money or asset. This is called the ‘Statutory Charge’.

Keeping legal costs at a reasonable level

Any solicitor who acts for a client with the benefit of legal aid has an overriding obligation to apply the “reasonable private paying individual” test.

In other words, solicitors won’t let clients run up high legal aid bills just because they don’t have to pay for it themselves. If a reasonable privately-funded client would not be prepared to incur the cost, legal aid solicitors would not let their clients incur it either as they have to be mindful of the public purse.

Importance of potential success before proceeding

All solicitors also have to be mindful of the prospects of success and proportionality for costs, just like they do with privately-funded clients.

If they do not think you’re likely to succeed, their job is to tell you that so you do not waste time and money. The costs incurred must be proportionate to the likely benefits.

Cunningtons Family Law solicitors

Cunningtons LLP Family Law solicitors believe in access to justice and we are proud of our heritage as legal aid solicitors.

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