Legal Aid


What is legal aid?

Legal aid is the use of public funds to help to pay for legal advice, family mediation and court or tribunal representation. The Legal Aid Agency is in charge of providing both civil and criminal legal aid in England and Wales. 
There are usually three considerations for legal aid:

  1. Scope: Does the case fall within the scope of legal aid?
  2. Means test: The means test assesses an applicant‘s financial eligibility.
  3. Merits test: The merits test (for civil legal aid) assess the merits of the case, including the likelihood of success, the reasonableness of costs and the benefit to the client.

What types of legal aid are there?

There are different types of legal aid available: 

  • Legal Help: Provides initial legal advice and assistance. 
  • Legal Representation: Provides legal representation at the court and a solicitor to prepare the case.
  • Family Mediation: Provides assistance with the costs of mediation in certain circumstances. See our page on Family Mediation. 

What family matters can I get legal aid for?

Non-means, non-merits tested

Legal aid is still available on a non-means, non-merits, tested basis in care proceedings where it is available for the child who is the subject of the proceedings and parents of/parties with parental responsibility for the subject child. This means that regardless of a person’s income, they are eligible. Furthermore, the prospects of success are not considered in the claim. In short, if care proceedings have been initiated, legal aid is automatic.

Legal aid is also available on a non-means, non-merits, tested basis in certain abduction cases.

woman with scales of justice

Means and merits tested

Legal aid is available on a means and merits tested basis in the following cases:

  • Proceedings under Parts 4 and 5 of the Children Act 1989, including contact with a child in care and discharge/variation of a care/supervision order.
  • Proceedings under Chapter 3 of Part 1 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, including if an application is made for a placement order and a recovery order.
  • Proceedings under the Inherent Jurisdiction of the High Court in relation to children, including wardship.
  • Proceedings under the Children Act 1989, including if an application is made for a child arrangement order, prohibited steps order, specific issue order, parental responsibility order, special guardianship order.
  • Proceedings under the Family Law Act 1996, including if an application is made for a non-molestation order or occupation order. 

How does an application for legal aid work?

Step 1 – Check if your matter is in scope

For family law, the general position is that public law proceedings and the representation of children remain in scope. However, most private family law cases involving children remain in scope only where there are issues concerning domestic abuse or child abuse and specific evidence is provided in support of this.

Click on the relevant link below for information on the evidence needed for legal aid if you or your child are suffering or at risk of suffering abuse:

  • Legal aid if you have been a victim of domestic abuse or violence
  • Legal aid if your child is at risk of abuse

Step 2 – Check financial eligibility

You can use the calculator accessible on the Gov website to check financial eligibility.

You will be required to give information about your income, benefits, savings, property and shares and those of your partner.

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