Legal aid is money used to help support the costs required for legal advice and representation in court. This includes tribunals and family mediation. Whether you’re eligible for legal aid is dependent on your individual case and financial situation.
You’ll usually need to show
- Your case is eligible for legal aid
- The problem is serious
- You cannot afford to pay for legal costs
You could get legal aid if you
- Or your family are at risk of abuse or serious harm, for example, domestic violence or forced marriage
- Are at risk of homelessness or losing your home
- Have been accused of a crime, face prison or detention
- Are being discriminated against
- Need family mediation
- Are adding legal arguments or bringing a case under the Human Rights Act
You might be able to get money off your court or tribunal fees if you have little or no savings and you either receive certain benefits or have a low income.
You should contact the court where you received the fine and ask if you can pay in instalments, over a longer period or at a later date.
There are two types of legal aid, for criminal and civil cases.
If your case is civil, you can:
- find out more about legal aid and check if you can get legal aid
- read about legal aid for family matters on the Child Law Advice website
If your case is criminal, you should ask your solicitor or barrister if you can get legal aid. Once you’ve left the police station, any legal aid you can get will be based on your income.
How to find a solicitor
If an advice agency or free service can’t help, you may need to get advice from a private solicitor. This could be for help with making a will, setting up a Lasting Power of Attorney, buying or selling a house or getting a divorce.
Different solicitors specialise in different areas of law, such as criminal, divorce or employment law.
- Search for a solicitor by contacting the Law Society. They will provide several options.
- Call a few to compare the services they offer – don’t forget to ask them about their fees so you can see which one is affordable for you.
- Check a solicitor’s record with the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority and make sure they’re registered with them before you hire them.
If you aren’t happy with the service you get from a solicitor, you can make a complaint. You should complain to the solicitor’s firm directly first. If you feel that your complaint isn’t resolved, contact the Legal Ombudsman, who investigates complaints about solicitors. This service is free and independent.
Help paying criminal fines
Fines imposed by a Court for criminal offences are one of the most important debts to pay. This is because courts have wide-ranging powers to collect fines, and in some cases, you could go to prison for non-payment.
You can pay a court fine online or by phone. You need your ‘Notice of Fine’ and a debit or credit card. If you’ve lost your Notice of Fine, contact the Court where you received the fine. You must pay by the date given in your Notice of Fine. The Court might reject your payment if enforcement action has already started. If you were fined at a Crown Court, you need your account number and division code.
If you’re struggling to pay the instalments fixed by the Court, or if you’ve missed any payment, contact the Court which set the fine without delay. If you don’t, the Court can take further action promptly and this can make your fine much harder to deal with.
The consequences of not paying a fine can be very serious. The Court’s powers to collect unpaid fines vary throughout the UK, but the most commonly used methods in England and Wales include:
- A regular weekly amount can be taken straight from some benefits
- Your employer can be ordered to send a percentage of your wage to the court
- Bailiffs and Enforcement Officers can visit your home
- The fine could be added to a public register so it appears on your credit file
- You might be ordered to carry out unpaid work in the community
- As a last resort, you can be sent to prison
Help paying magistrates’ court fines
If you can’t afford the payments to a fine, phone or write to the Fines Officer at the court and ask if the payments can be reduced. It’s much better to do this before you miss a payment.
Attachment of Earnings or deductions from benefits are taken at fixed amounts and you can’t reduce the payments once they’re set.
The Fines Officer won’t always agree to reduce your payments. They may pass your case to a magistrate or District Judge to decide instead.
Get help paying court and tribunal fees
You might be able to get money off your court or tribunal fees if you have little or no savings, and you either:
- get certain benefits
- have a low income
There are different rules in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Other ways you can find free legal help
Free legal advice clinics
Have a look on the LawWorks website to find a free legal advice clinic and other organisations that might be able to help you.
Check with your employer to see if they offer free legal advice
Check with your employer as some Employee Assistance Schemes (EAPs) offer free legal advice, so it’s worth finding out if there’s anything like this in place at your work.
If you’re part of a trade union
If you’re part of a trade union, speak to your rep to see what free legal help they might be able to offer you.
Don’t forget to check your insurance
If your dispute is related to your home, car and another insurance policy, check your paperwork to see if you have legal cover.
Contact Citizen’s Advice for help with consumer issues
If you’re struggling with a consumer problem, speak to the Citizen’s Advice consumer helpline.
Charities providing help
It’s worth looking around to see whether any charities offer a legal service, and some lawyers volunteer their time for free too.
If you need to attend court or a tribunal, have a look at Advocate’s website to see if you can find a barrister who will volunteer to represent you free of charge.
Find your nearest law centre
Law centres provide help with all sorts of problems including housing and homelessness, immigration and asylum, family, community care and benefits. Find your nearest law centre here.
Exceptional case funding
If you’ve tried all the methods above and are still struggling to find legal aid, you can consider applying for what’s called ‘exceptional case funding’. Find out more here.
Look for solicitors offering free legal advice
Many solicitors out there offer legal advice free of charge for a certain number of minutes. Jot down the number of some local solicitors in your area and give them a quick call to check what they can offer. A short appointment with your solicitor can help you determine your rights. If you do agree to a limited-time appointment, make sure you have a clear idea in your head beforehand of what you want to say and get out of your session, and make sure you bring everything along that you need to.
If you’re struggling with debt repayments
Remember, we’re here to help if you’re still struggling with your budget and need a hand looking at your options. Contact us to find out more.
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