Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Access to civil legal aid to rise for Scots as income limit hits £25k

Legal Aid access has been increased for many, announces the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill .. but the proof of increased legal aid access will be in the eating, so to speak, when claimants find out the 'increased access' is actually more of giving them extra time to pay their legal aid bills .. since contributions are going up too ... (naughty MacAskill missing out that bit - Ed)

Press Release from the Scottish Legal Aid Board :

Legal support for middle-income households

The Scottish Government today extended legal aid rules to one million more Scots – enabling them to apply for financial support when protecting their housing, employment and family rights.

Anyone with a disposable income of £25,000 or less will be eligible to apply for civil legal aid. The previous limit was £10,306.

Ministers pledged the change - meaning that around three-quarters of all adults will potentially be eligible for legal aid - in November, as part of their wider support for people during the economic downturn.

The Scottish Government is also investing an additional £3 million to enhance the national availability of advice and representation, including people at risk of repossession.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: “The Scottish Government is determined to use the powers at our disposal to help those facing difficult and uncertain times during the current economic slump.

“We have taken a series of steps to help hard-pressed families and businesses, to improve financial advice to vulnerable individuals and to stimulate growth in the economy.

“Today we will, at a stroke, bring one million more Scots into potential eligibility for legal aid, where previously their disposable income automatically ruled them out of being considered.

“We believe the change is long overdue as the system has for many years unfairly excluded people of relatively modest means from pursuing what might be a complex and expensive legal action.

“The reformed financial eligibility limits, including a tapered contribution regime, provides a fairer system which can help many more people at just the time they might need it most.”

Lindsay Montgomery, Chief Executive of the Scottish Legal Aid Board added:

“This opens up access to justice for more people and is particularly welcome news in a difficult economic climate.

“This substantial increase in financial eligibility for civil legal aid will help people who previously would not have been able to afford to pursue or defend their case.

“It will also mean that those with higher disposable incomes will pay a proportionate contribution towards their case.”

Notes for News Editors:

1. Civil legal aid provides funding for a solicitor to take a case to court, including preparation and the hearing itself, as well as funding for advocates and experts if needed.

2. Financial eligibility for legal aid is means-tested on an applicant's disposable income (including deductions for maintenance payments and childcare or travel costs associated with work, as well as an allowance for the costs of providing for dependants) and capital assets (including savings and investments, but not their home).

3. Under the new rules, civil legal aid applicants would pay the following contribution from their disposable income:

* No contribution if annual disposable income is below £3,156;
* One third of the amount by which their disposable income exceeds £3,355, up to £10,995;
* plus 50% of any disposable income between £10,996 and £15,000;
* plus 100% of any disposable income over £15,001 up to the upper limit of £25,000.

The rest of any case costs would be met through legal aid payments.

4. To date around 43% of Scottish households are potentially eligible to access civil legal assistance under the legal aid scheme. The rise in upper disposable income limit to £25,000 will bring this to around 74%. Financial eligibility tests in England and Wales are not directly comparable. However, the monthly disposable income limit for legal aid south of the border is approximately equivalent to £8,376 over one year and the estimated eligibility rate in 2007 was around 29% of households.

5. In addition to financial qualification, applicants must meet two other statutory tests: they must have a legal basis for the case and it must be reasonable in the particular circumstances of the case that they should receive legal aid (e.g. it may not be reasonable to grant legal aid to enable the applicant to sue someone who has no resources or where the applicant is able to receive financial help from other sources such as a trade union, insurance company or professional body).

6. In November the Deputy First Minister announced an additional £3 million over two years to enhance the availability of legal advice and representation for people facing repossession and other problems, such as debt, through In-Court services, and assistance provided by local solicitors, advice agencies and Scottish Legal Aid Board.

7. A Repossessions Group, established by Ministers to examine other measures to support homeowners at risk of losing their home, is due to report to Ministers by the end of April.

8. In January Minister for Community Safety Fergus Ewing established the Debt Action Forum, a panel of experts chaired by the Minister to examine information and initiatives on debt relief, debt advice and repossession and recommend a package of legislative and non-legislative measures to tackle the issues. He also announced improvements to the Debt Arrangement Scheme which helps people with disposable incomes to pay back their debts over a longer period, free from the threat of legal action.

9. Illustrative examples of how the changes will affect certain types of household are available here: Extended eligibility examples

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