Advice and Assistance Scheme
The advice and assistance scheme allows people on low incomes to get free legal advice and assistance from a solicitor.
Who can apply for advice and assistance?
Anyone aged 16 or over can apply for advice and assistance. A young person under 16 can apply for advice and assistance in her/his own right if s/he has ‘sufficient understanding’. If s/he is very young or does not have sufficient understanding, the child’s parent or guardian can apply on her/his behalf.
What does the scheme cover?
The scheme will not pay for representation by a solicitor in court or at a tribunal, although a solicitor can help you prepare the case and negotiate settlement of a claim in such proceedings.
Other areas which the scheme covers are general advice on any legal problems, writing letters, negotiating, getting an advocate’s opinion, and getting a medical report for an accident claim or a benefit appeal.
Legal problems covered by the scheme
The advice and assistance scheme covers advice on general legal problems, included on a case category list, including advice on the following:-
- divorce, dissolution of a civil partnership, maintenance or disputes about children
- contested adoptions
- preparing for tribunals, for example, unfair dismissal and social security tribunals
- preparation before some criminal proceedings
- making a will
- accident claims, including giving advice, preparing a case for criminal injuries compensation, getting medical reports.
If the legal problem that you have is not on the case categories list a solicitor can offer you a diagnostic interview or other piece of legal work up to a maximum cost of £35. If the solicitor identifies a significant issue that is on the case categories list in the course of this initial work you can then apply for full advice and assistance if you are eligible financially. How much work is covered by the scheme?
The full advice and assistance scheme allows the solicitor to do only a fairly small amount of work.
If the work done by a solicitor has already reached the limit set by the scheme, s/he can apply for an extension to finish the work. The solicitor cannot carry out any further work on the case until the extension is granted. If this is refused, it is up to you to decide whether you wish to pay for further work.
A solicitor cannot normally represent you in court or at a tribunal under the advice and assistance scheme, except in certain limited circumstances which are covered by Assistance by Way of Representation (ABWOR). Your solicitor will be able to advise you when ABWOR is possible.
If the matter can be resolved only by court proceedings, and the case cannot be covered by ABWOR, the solicitor may suggest that you apply for civil legal aid (see under heading Civil legal aid) or criminal legal aid (see under heading Legal aid for criminal proceedings).
What are the financial conditions for the scheme?
Both capital and income are taken into account when determining eligibility.
If you have savings over £1,639 you will not be eligible for advice and assistance. This is the limit if you have no dependants.
If you have dependant relatives (partner – including a same sex partner, child, or other relatives) there are allowances that can be deducted from the total capital.
If you are over state pension age the allowance is higher.
If you are getting income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income-related employment and support allowance or the guarantee credit part of pension credit you will be eligible for free legal advice and assistance, unless you have savings over the limit.
If you are not getting income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income-related employment and support allowance or the guarantee credit part of pension credit your eligibility for advice and assistance will depend on your income.
If you are married, in a civil partnership or cohabiting (same sex or opposite sex), your partner’s income and savings will also be taken into account unless you live apart and are financially separate or there is a conflict of interest between you (for example in a case of divorce or dissolution or a dispute about children), or it would be inequitable or impracticable to do so.
If the applicant is a child, s/he will be assessed on her/his own income and savings, and not that of her/his parents.
Your income is worked out by adding up all your actual income from the last seven days and deducting from it tax and National Insurance, maintenance payments made by you for the last seven days and various allowances for dependants.
If you are unsure about eligibility please make an appointment to discuss this further with one of our solicitors.