Getting help to pay for legal advice about a tribunal case

If you have a legal problem, you may be able to get help to pay for legal advice. This know-how explains what help you may be able to get if you have a case going to a tribunal – that’s a problem to do with things like your benefits, council tax reductions, and unlawful discrimination by your employer or your child’s special educational needs. It will help you understand what legal aid is, when it is available and who can get it.
Money, card reader, cheque book on a table. Photo by Walter Scott

What is legal aid?

Legal aid is a government scheme – a means tested benefit to help you to pay for legal advice and help, representation and family mediation. Sometimes it can also pay for things like an expert’s opinion.

The rules about who can get legal aid and what for changed dramatically in 2013. But some people can still get legal aid. Before you decide to take action alone, find out if you can get legal aid.

Whether or not you can get legal aid depends on what legal problem you have, how much money you earn, what property you own, and whether there is a reasonable chance of you winning your case.

Step 1: Check whether you are financially eligible for legal aid

You can find out if you are financially eligible for legal aid by using this online tool: Check if you can get legal aid

Step 2: Check whether it’s possible to get legal aid to pay for advice about your particular legal problem

Legal aid is only available for certain types of tribunal cases.

Benefit problems

You may be able to get legal aid if you think that the tribunal that dealt with your case got the law wrong in some way. Perhaps, for example, you think they didn’t apply the law properly or give a proper reason for their decision and you want to appeal to the Upper Tribunal, Court of Appeal or Supreme Court.

Council tax reductions

You may be able to get legal aid if you are appealing a decision about whether you are entitled to a council tax reduction and/or how much reduction you should get and you think that the tribunal that dealt with your case got the law wrong in some way. Perhaps, for example, you think they didn’t apply the law properly or give a proper reason for their decision and you want to appeal to the Upper Tribunal, Court of Appeal or Supreme Court.

Discrimination

You may be able to get legal aid if you have been unlawfully discriminated against by an employer.

Discrimination is only unlawful when you are treated worse than other people because of a particular personal characteristic. The law calls these characteristics ‘protected characteristics’. They are:

  • Sex, including pregnancy or maternity, or whether you are married or single or in a civil partnership.
  • Race, including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin.
  • Disability (this means where you have a physical or mental health condition which has a substantial effect on your day to day activities, and which has lasted or is expected to last for a year or more).
  • Age (this includes being young as well as old).
  • Religion or belief (this includes having no religious beliefs or non-religious beliefs).
  • Sexual orientation.
  • Gender reassignment or being on the way to gender reassignment.

Immigration and asylum law

You may be able to get legal aid if:

  • You need help making an asylum application.
  • You need help applying for asylum support - as long as your case includes an application for accommodation as well as support for essential living needs.
  • You have been detained.
  • You are applying to settle in the UK and you have been a victim of domestic violence or trafficking.
  • You have a case before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission.
  • You have got a Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measure notice.

Education law

You may be able to get legal aid if you want to appeal a decision that has been made about your child’s special educational needs. For example, maybe your local council has refused to:

  • assess your child’s educational, health and care (EHC) needs,
  • make a statement of  your child’s special educational needs,
  • reassess your child’s special educational needs,
  • create an educational, health and care (EHC ) plan,
  • change what’s in your child’s special educational needs statement or EHC plan, or
  • maintain the statement or EHC plan.

If you are in this situation and you want to know whether and how you can challenge the council’s decision, you may be able to get legal aid to pay for legal advice and help prepare your appeal.

Working with children and vulnerable adults

You may be able to get legal aid if you want to appeal a decision that has been made to exclude, remove or suspend you from a register to work with or care for children or vulnerable adults.

You may also be able to get legal aid if you want to appeal against a health or education department decision to include you on a list of people barred from working with children or vulnerable adults or ban you from teaching or working with children.

Mental health

You may be able to get legal aid to pay for legal advice or representation if you’ve been compulsorily admitted as a patient to a psychiatric hospital (you may hear this called ‘sectioned’) and you want to be discharged.

You may also be able to get legal aid if you want to change a community treatment order or the conditions you have to meet in return for being allowed to leave hospital, for example such as getting treatment out in the community.

Other problems

These are not the only tribunal cases which you may be able to get legal aid for, but they are probably the most common. Always ask your lawyer or advisor to check if your legal problem is covered.

Exceptional funding

This is funding outside the legal aid scheme’s normal criteria. It is only available in very limited circumstances to people who otherwise won’t get to benefit from their human or European Union rights. For more information about exceptional funding and how to apply for it, see: Exceptional funding

Step 3: Get a solicitor and apply for legal aid

You apply for legal aid through a solicitor. You can find a solicitor that does legal aid work here: Find a legal aid adviser or family mediator.

If the solicitor you contact says your legal problem isn’t covered by legal aid, it’s worth asking another solicitor for their view. The rules about what solicitors can and can’t advise on and help with paid for by legal aid are often quite complicated and there is a risk, because of this complexity, that you get incorrect advice. For this reason it’s important that you speak to a solicitor who specialises in the area of law you want help with.

January 2017

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