Civil legal aid could help with the costs of using a solicitor to prepare a case and speak for you in court. Examples of civil cases include:
- divorce, ending a civil partnership and disputes about children
- trying to get compensation for injuries after an accident or for medical negligence
- housing – for example, rent or mortgage arrears, repairs and evictions
- problems with debt or benefits
- immigration, nationality and asylum
If you're just looking for legal advice and need help with the costs, you would apply for 'advice and assistance'.
To apply for civil legal aid you'll need to find a solicitor that does legal aid work. They'll talk you through your options, let you know if it's likely you'll get civil legal aid and help you with the application process.
Who can get help
You'll usually need to show that you can't afford to pay for your legal costs yourself. You may have to pay some money towards the costs of your case, or pay costs back later. You may not need to pay anything at all, depending on your financial position and the type of legal help you need.
Your solicitor can tell you if it's likely you'll get civil legal aid. However, it's the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) who will assess your application and tell you what you'll pay towards your legal costs.
Your solicitor will give you some forms to fill in and they'll send these to SLAB on your behalf. SLAB will check:
- your financial situation – can you afford your legal costs without help from SLAB?
- you have 'probable cause' – is there a legal basis to take your case forward?
- it's reasonable to spend public money to support your case – is it likely to succeed, and will it cost more than it's worth?
- help isn't available to you from somewhere else – is there a trade union or insurance company that could help you, and have you tried to settle your case without going to court?
When SLAB checks your financial situation they'll look at you and your partner's (unless you're separated or your case involves them):
- disposable capital (savings, shares, property and money you could use or sell to pay for legal help – this doesn't include the house you live in)
- disposable income (this is the money you have left after paying all your living expenses, like your rent/mortgage, council tax, childcare costs, debt repayments and your travel to work)
What you might need to pay
Use the civil legal aid estimator to see if you could get civil legal aid and what you might need to pay.
Remember that SLAB will also look at how strong your case is, and you may have to pay costs back later if you keep or gain money or property.
If you get benefits
You won't need to pay anything towards your legal costs if you get:
- Universal Credit
- Income Support
- income-based Jobseeker's Allowance (if you're on a low income)
- income-based Employment and Support Allowance (if you're on a low income)
'Income-based' is a type of benefit you get because you're on a low income.
If you have savings
You may have to pay a lump sum towards your legal costs if you have capital (savings, shares and property) worth over £7,853. If you have capital worth over £13,017 you may not be eligible for civil legal aid, unless it appears to SLAB you can't afford to proceed without legal aid.
For example, if your disposable capital is worth between £7,853 and £13,017, deduct £7,853. This is the amount your lump sum will be.
Your disposable income
Your solicitor will also look at your disposable income to check that you need help with your legal costs. This depends on if you're single, live with a partner or have children.
Your legal costs will depend on your case.
If you're not eligible
If you can't get civil legal aid, there might be other ways to get help with your legal problem – some could be cheaper or free.
Remember, if you don't qualify for civil legal aid you may still qualify for advice and assistance.