New Legal Aid Thresholds Announced

31st March 2011

The Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) has announced new thresholds for Advice & Assistance (A&A) and Civil Legal Aid (CivLA), which will take effect from 11 April 2011.

Legal Aid is a form of government welfare benefit available to eligible persons who cannot afford to pay for private legal services.

A&A covers meetings with your solicitor, correspondence, telephone calls etc, and representation in some tribunals (ABWOR). Eligibility for A&A is assessed with reference to household financial circumstances, i.e. if you live with a partner, then your partner's income and savings are taken into account.

From 11 April 2011, if total household savings (and other capital, not including your principal residence) are less than £1,716 for a single person, then you may qualify subject to income. There will be further allowances for other household residents or for pensioners on low incomes, but as yet SLAB has not confirmed the exact figures.

Again from 11 April 2011, if total household income is less than £105 net a week, then you may qualify without requiring to pay any personal financial contribution out of your own pocket. If income is between £105-£245 net a week, then you may qualify with a contribution (although RLC usually doesn't charge this at this time). If income is over £245 net a week, then it is unlikely you would qualify. Certain benefits are not taken into account, and there may be allowances for other household residents.

CivLA covers court work, and eligibility is more complex than than for A&A, but is similarly assessed with reference to household financial circumstances. From 11 April 2011, the upper disposable income threshold is £26,239 a year.

You may require to pay a personal financial contribution out of your own pocket (which RLC cannot waive, unlike the contribution for A&A).

CivLA may confer on you some level of protection from your opponent's legal expenses. For example, in many cases you would usually require to pay your oppnent's expenses if litigation has become nessary through some fault on your part, or in the event of your defeat at court. However, if you have CivLA, then the sheriff or judge may decide to restrict your opponent's expenses (although Defenders in mortgage repossession cases generally require to pay their lenders' expenses in any event in terms of the mortgage contract).

Clawback

If you win your case and obtain compensation or retain an asset, e.g. your home in a mortgage repossession case, then SLAB may refuse to pay your solicitor's bill, whereupon you may have to pay it out of your own pocket in whole or in part, unless your solicitor is willing to waive his fee.

Controversially, from 11 April 2011 clawback is to be extended to Employment Tribunal awards as well.

From  31 January 2011, solicitors need to see proof of income and capital before they may grant A&A, i.e. your and your partner's payslip(s) and/or benefits award letter(s) and bank statement(s).

It is an offence to understate your financial circumstances in applying for legal aid.

Clients who receive the benefit of legal aid may have their files requisitioned by the Law Society of Scotland for external audit under the "Peer Review" quality assurance scheme.

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