Can I use legal aid to fund my case against the police or prison?
You have been wronged by the police, prison or other state actor and are considering taking legal action. You may be worried that you cannot pay your solicitor’s legal fees to bring this case. Read this article to find out more about the different funding options available and their advantages.
What is legal aid funding?
Before a solicitor takes on your case, they should assess whether you qualify for legal aid funding. Legal aid is public funding that is provided by the government to help pay for your legal fees if you cannot afford to pay a solicitor privately. This includes the costs of a barrister, or any expert witness the solicitor instructs. Legal aid also offers you cost protection in that it will pay for the other party’s costs if you lose.
What kinds of cases are covered by legal aid?
When you instruct a solicitor in your human rights case, it is important to check whether the area you are looking to seek legal advice in is covered by legal aid and that the solicitor specialises legal aid law. Some examples of human rights cases that are generally covered by legal aid include (but are not limited to):
- Compensation claims against public authorities
- Judicial review against public authorities
- Inquests where the death involved a public authority
- Victims’ Right to Review
- Police complaints
Am I eligible for legal aid?
The next step is confirming your financial circumstances are such that you are eligible for legal aid. Your solicitor will assess both your income and your capital. If you live with a partner, their financial circumstances will also be assessed.
Your income will include your earnings, benefits, and money you receive from others. Your solicitor will also consider any deductible outgoings called “allowances” such as tax and national insurance, housing costs and whether you have dependents. Your disposable income must not exceed £733 per month.
In the event that you are in receipt of a 'passporting benefit,' such as Universal Credit (UC), Income Support (IS), income-based Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA), Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), or Guarantee Credit (GC), you qualify automatically on income. Your capital will still need to be considered, however.
When your solicitor assesses your capital, you will be asked about any properties you own, as well as your savings, investments, valuable items, and other capital held. The capital will be off set against any relevant deductions, such as the mortgage on your property. The limit for disposable capital varies depending on the stage of Legal Aid funding you are seeking.
Generally, the limits for disposable income and disposable capital are ‘hard’ limits and funding will most likely be refused if income and/or capital is above the maximum amounts.
What are the stages of legal aid funding?
At the initial stage of your case, advice will be provided under limited 'Legal Help' funding. This type of funding usually covers initial investigations, and steps before the point of when you need to start your claim at court.
If your solicitor thinks there is a good chance that you will be successful in your case based on their initial investigations, and your case reaches a further stage, your solicitor might advise you to apply for a Legal Aid Certificate. Your solicitor will guide you through this process and should prepare the application on your behalf.
Who assesses whether I qualify for legal aid?
Legal aid assessments can be complex. Your solicitor will usually undertake an initial assessment of your finances when you enquire with the firm. Once a solicitor has confirmed they are able to investigate your case, you will be asked to provide evidence of your finances such as confirmation of receipt of your benefits, bank statements, wage slips, and proof of your rent to make a final assessment.
Is legal aid completely free?
On applying for a legal aid certificate, it may be that you are eligible for legal aid but that you are required to contribute to your legal costs. This happens if your income, savings and other capital are above a certain level, and will usually require a monthly contribution payment.
At the end of your case, you may also have to pay back some legal costs from your compensation. This is also called the ‘statutory charge’. Whether or not it applies really depends on the circumstances of your case, and at Saunders Law it is only a small minority of clients who are required to pay it. Your solicitor will advise you on these points if and when they arise.
What are the advantages of Legal Aid?
Clients sometimes wonder why legal aid is necessary when some firms offer Conditional Fee Agreements (known as CFAs or ‘no win no fee’ agreements). Some people may feel reluctant to disclose their financial information and a CFA may seem to be a more straightforward option. However, legal aid carries important benefits.
No win no fee agreements are not a perfect solution to funding a claim. A client is required to pay disbursements (such as court fees and expert fees) which can be significant. This is not the case with legal aid. Most importantly, legal aid offers ‘costs protection’, meaning if you lose your case, it is extremely unlikely that you will have to pay for your opponent’s legal costs. CFAs sometimes require taking out litigation insurance, which is difficult to obtain and can be expensive.
Therefore, if you are not able to pay your fees privately, and you are eligible for civil legal aid, it will be in your best interests that you use legal aid to fund your human rights case.
I am not eligible for legal aid – what now?
If you are not eligible for legal aid, this does not mean that you cannot pursue your case. You might be able to fund your case with the below options, depending on what the law firm is able to offer you:
- Private funding: This option is available if you can pay costs privately.
- Conditional Fee Agreement (‘CFA’), also referred to as a “No Win, No Fee” agreement: This is an agreement to charge no fee or a reduced fee if a claim is unsuccessful, however, a fee can be charged if the claim is successful.
- Legal expenses insurance: Check your insurance policies to see if they cover legal expenses. Relevant expenses insurances may include Before the Event of After the Event insurance.
- Crowd funding: This is a form of donations based legal funding and only suitable in certain types of cases. Your solicitor may be able to assist you in seeking donations in a suitable case.
Our expert team of police action, civil liberties and human rights solicitors are experienced in bringing cases against the police and other state bodies. Please contact us on 020 7632 4300 or here for a free, no-obligation, initial discussion of whether we may be able to help you bring a case.