Changes to Family Legal Aid to Reduce Fraudulent Applications


From April 2010, there will be significant changes in legal aid in family cases. In ancillary relief (the financial aspects of divorce) and in private law cases involving children, any legal aid application made by a party to the proceedings will be disclosed to the other side. 

The other party will then have a period of 14 days to provide any evidence that suggests that the legal aid applicant is not eligible for legal funding. At the moment, the onus is on a party to contact the Legal Services Commission (LSC) if they have such evidence. This new system will not extend to domestic violence cases or other types of emergency proceedings.
In practice, this means that the LSC will contact the opposing party to ensure the applicant is in fact financially eligible for legal aid. If, for example, an ex-husband applies for funding for a contact order, this will not be granted if the ex-wife is able to provide evidence that he has a higher income, or greater capital, than he has disclosed to the LSC. The change may cause some delay to legal aid being granted for genuine applicants.
The changes also prevent non-UK residents from being able to apply for legal aid in some circumstances. The LSC will also implement new ways of dealing with cases that have lower individual benefit to the applicant, and do not justify the likely costs, but are of wider public interest and therefore merit public funding.
Legal aid is means tested, which means that applicants on certain benefits and those with low income and capital are eligible. There is a useful calculator on the Community Legal Service website.. However, if you are in any doubt, always seek legal advice on your particular financial circumstances.
If you are considering divorce or family law proceedings concerning your children, you may be eligible for legal aid. We can advise you on your individual circumstances. 

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