The “Legal Advice and Assistance Scheme” is run by the Legal Services Commission (LSC) and is available to qualifying applicants to provide free initial divorce advice from a solicitor. Eligibility under the scheme is determined after consideration of income and assets by the solicitor in his office. For those clients who are eligible, a solicitor is able to give initial help however this does not cover representation in court for which an application for full legal aid for divorce must be made to the LSC. In the event that the applicant is not eligible under the scheme most solicitors will give a free half hour interview.
In order to be legally represented using the legal aid scheme it will be necessary for an applicant to satisfy the financial criteria of the LSC and to show that there is a reasonable case in law. The grant of legal aid for divorce advice and representation is based on ‘financial need’ and the assessment is made by the DHS who consider income, expenditure and assets in making their determination. Those who are on low income or benefits including income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance or the guarantee credit of Pension Credit and have a low level of assets may qualify.
An important point that must be considered when applying for legal aid for divorce is that the LSC reclaims the money it spends on legal representation from any property that is recovered by a successful legally aided client. There is an exemption of the first £3,000 which is not recoverable and recovery of the legal costs is usually deferred by registration of a legal charge against the property however when the property is eventually sold the amount of expenditure must be paid back to the LSC. This arrangement which is fully outlined in the forms used to apply for legal aid is referred to as ‘the statutory charge’. A solicitor should, when giving divorce advice, explain the concept of the statutory charge in detail if his client applies for public funding. If the case is lost the statutory charge does not apply and the legally aided applicant does not have to pay anything.
An important protection applies to a litigant in receipt of public funding in that the loser of a court action is usually ordered to pay the winners legal costs however if a legally aided litigant loses, the court is precluded from making a costs order against that person, except in unusual circumstances, which puts the legally aided client at considerable advantage.
Our nationwide network of specialist lawyers will give initial free advice on all matters relating to matrimonial disputes including dissolution of marriage, separation, injunctions, finance and agreements and court orders relating to custody and access to children without further obligation. If after talking to us you decide not to take matters further you are under no obligation to do so and you will not be charged anything at all.