For many people the thought of incurring costs is a barrier to asking for legal advice, even when it is clearly the best way to tackle their problem.
Fortunately it is possible, for those who need it, to obtain free or affordable help or advice in other ways.
There are 2 types of legal aid
• Civil Legal Aid – for problems such as housing, debt and family.
• Criminal Legal Aid – for those facing criminal charges
Civil Legal Aid is available for a wide range of cases, however there are a number of excluded issues such as personal injury or death, or criminal injuries compensation cases.
Certain financial conditions must be met to qualify for legal aid; in some cases legal aid is free and in others there may be a requirement to contribute towards the legal costs.
Legal aid services can be provided only by organisations that have contracts with the Legal Aid Agency (LAA). These include solicitors in private practice, law centres and some Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB).
The CAB has full details of who and what may or may not qualify for legal aid, the different types of legal aid, the financial conditions, and how to apply.
The Civil Legal Advice helpline gives free, independent and confidential advice to those eligible for civil legal aid. Its number is 0345 345 4345 and is open from 9.00am to 8.00pm, Monday to Friday and from 9.00am to 12.30pm on Saturday. Calls cost no more than 4p a minute from a BT landline.
For those unable to get legal aid there may be other sources of free or affordable legal help.
Free Legal Advice from Law Centres
Where legal aid is not available some law centres may be able to give free legal advice. Generally specialising in housing, employment, immigration, debt, welfare benefits, community care and discrimination cases, they are staffed by solicitors and other specialist caseworkers
Currently there are just over 40 law centres UK wide, with additional ones being planned. Their locations can be found at http://www.lawcentres.org.uk
Fixed fee interview with a solicitor
Many solicitors offer up to half an hour’s free legal advice; other prefer a pre-agreed or fixed fee. This provides the opportunity to discuss whether a specific case is worth pursuing or defending, and may also give an indication of the potential cost of doing so.
The local CAB usually has details of solicitors who provide this service, and some CABs may have arrangements whereby local solicitors are able to give free advice at the CAB office.
The scheme is not means-tested, therefore charges are the same for everyone, regardless of individual income or savings.
A search for a local solicitor may be carried out at https://www.gov.uk/find-a-legal-adviser. The website will show if that solicitor operates a fixed fee interview scheme.
Alternatively, by contacting local solicitors or checking their websites, it should be possible to establish whether or not they offer fixed fee interviews and if they have other suitable affordable options.
Free legal help from volunteer lawyers at LawWorks
LawWorks is a charity working in England and Wales that connects volunteer lawyers with people in need of legal advice, who are not eligible for legal aid and cannot afford to pay and to the not-for-profit organisations that support them.
It arranges legal help through free advice clinics, mediation and casework.
The organisation is not able to help with criminal, immigration, asylum and family cases and it may take up to eight weeks to find the Claimant a volunteer lawyer.
For more information see here www.lawworks.org.uk
Free legal advice and representation in court and tribunal cases from the Bar Pro Bono Unit
The Bar Pro Bono Unit is a charity which helps to find pro bono (free) legal assistance from volunteer barristers. It only helps those who cannot get legal aid and cannot afford to pay.
Cases must be referred to the Bar Pro Bono Unit by a solicitor or advice agency such as a CAB, law centre or MP.
Conditional fee agreements
Also known as “No win, No fee” agreements, conditional fee agreements (CFAs) provide Claimants a way of funding litigation at minimal financial risk to themselves, and are made on the understanding that the solicitor will not take a fee if the case is lost. If the case is successful, the solicitor’s fees are generally paid through the damages awarded.
It is essential that any circumstances where the Claimant may end up incurring legal costs are made fully clear at the outset, and that the solicitor ensures that the case is well founded to minimise the risk to himself.
The terms of any agreement should be carefully considered before being entered into.
Legal Expenses Insurance
Often sold as part of a household contents insurance policy, legal expenses insurance generally includes help to paying for claims for personal injury, property disputes, employment disputes and disputes around goods or services.
Where legal expenses insurance is included as part of a car insurance policy, the cover usually helps to pay for compensation for injury, damage to the car, and uninsured losses such as policy excess and car hire, as well as the cost of pursuing losses due to accidents that were not the Claimant’s fault.
As many policies will exclude certain kinds of legal expenses or may not meet the total cost of the case, it is important to carefully consider what the specific policy offers.
Other insurance policies or credit cards may offer legal advice – usually as an extra. It is always worth checking to if this cover is available if there is a legal problem.
The policy may specify how legal advice may be obtained and where from. Many insurers work only with selected, approved legal advisers.
Free legal representation from trade unions
As well as work-related issues, trade unions may provide free legal representation for a variety of problems. Free union representation may be more suitable for Claimants than Legal Representation as members do not have to make a financial contribution towards legal help from their union.
Motoring organisations – such as the AA, RAC or Green Flag – may also offer cheap or free legal advisory service to members.