Legal aid reform
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act came into force on 1 April 2013. The Act brings into effect:
Changes to the scope of civil legal aid
Matters in scope for civil legal aid are described in Schedule 1, Part 1.
Changes to client eligibility for legal aid
Changes to eligibility mean specifically:
- capital passporting has been abolished so all applicants are subject to a capital assessment regardless of whether they are in receipt of certain benefits;
- monthly income contributions from clients have increased by up to 30% of their disposable income;
- the cap of £100,000 to apply to the Subject Matter of Dispute (SMOD) has been extended to Controlled Work.
Exceptional Cases Funding Scheme
A new Exceptional Case Funding Scheme (ECF) allows cases to be brought back into scope in exceptional circumstances ie, where failure to grant legal aid would result in breach of a client’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. For more information, see the Lord Chancellor’s Guidance on Exceptional Funding.
Telephone Gateway Service
A new mandatory telephone gateway service operates for clients accessing Debt, Education (Special Education Needs) and Discrimination advice, unless the client is exempt. The Civil Legal Advice (CLA) service will continue to provide advice in Housing, Family and Welfare Benefits but this will not be the mandatory route for clients to access legal aid in these areas.
Civil legal aid may be refused in any individual case suitable for alternative funding, such as a Conditional Fee Agreement (CFA) except in Family or Mental Health Tribunal cases.
New forms and guidance have been published.
Online training on the changes has been available since end February/early March. We would urge all providers who have not yet had an opportunity to do so, to undertake the training as it is essential for your understanding of the new legal aid scheme.
We have published an FAQ document reflecting queries received at Provider Reference Groups and from providers and representative bodies in relation to the legal aid reforms.
We also published a summary of all the latest news on legal aid reform in our email bulletin on 27 March.