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Legal aid is available to most victims of domestic abuse, providing vital financial help during a time of great emotional turmoil in life.
The system is set up so that most of the taxpayer-funded help goes to those on low incomes; those with more financial resources are expected to contribute to the legal costs. A government website gives you an idea if you qualify for legal aid in England and Wales.
To help you further, the NCDV’s free service is geared towards assisting you, as a litigant in person, obtain an emergency injunction against your abuser. We also have a solicitors’ panel consisting of legal aid solicitors who will provide you with publicly funded legal representation.
If you are not eligible for legal aid, or cannot afford the contributions, we will still help you for free. One of our caseworkers will contact you by phone to help you prepare your witness statement and the relevant documents for the application.
Legal aid will cover the costs of legal advice, preparation of paperwork and getting someone to negotiate or speak for you, including in court. Legal aid may also cover advice and help on other family matters such as finances, mediation, divorce proceedings and when a child is at risk of being taken into care.
The extent of aid given is decided on a case-by-case basis and is means tested, except for proceedings involving children in care and child abduction.
Whether you qualify for free public funding or have to make a contribution to the legal aid will depend on your income, benefits, savings, investments, and any property you own along with your disposable income after your housing and childcare costs are taken into account.
In addition, the government’s Legal Aid Agency (LAA) will conduct a merits test to assess the strengths and weaknesses of your case, such as the chances of success and if the costs are reasonable for the benefit you are likely to gain. Applications from people suffering from or at risk of domestic violence have a good chance of passing the test.
It is possible you will have to make a capital contribution (based on the value of your house and/or savings) upfront or a monthly contribution (based on your disposable income) whilst the case is on-going.
Whatever the situation, a legal aid solicitor will be able to advise you on what will be covered by public funding.
If you are awarded money or property, you may have to pay back some of the legal aid. In those cases the LAA will make a claim known as a statutory charge. When property has been awarded to you, payment can be deferred and the debt set against the value of your home, similar to a mortgage.
Should legal aid be withdrawn, then you may have to repay the full costs.
A government website tells you where you can find a solicitor in your area with a legal aid contract.
The Rights of Women support organisation has prepared a comprehensive document detailing the legal aid system.
As different rules apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland, it is wise to refer to information provided by the devolved Scottish government and the Northern Ireland Department of Justice before seeking legal advice.