Getting help to pay for legal advice about a civil (non-criminal) legal problem

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 non-criminal legal problem – that’s a problem to do with things like housing, debt, and discrimination in relation to the supply of goods or services. 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 or court fees.

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 to pay for a lawyer to help you.

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 your chances of success.

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 legal problems.

Housing problems

You may be able to get legal aid if:

  • Your landlord wants to re-possess your home and evict you.
  • You are at risk of losing your home because of mortgage arrears.
  • You are unlawfully evicted or threatened with unlawful eviction.
  • You are homeless or threatened with homelessness.
  • You rent your home and the condition of your home is causing a serious risk to the health or safety of you or a member of your family.
  • You are being taken to court by your landlord about allegations of anti-social behaviour.
  • You are being harassed by your landlord or by someone acting for your landlord (for example, a letting agent) and you want to take out an injunction against them.
  • You are applying for asylum support and your application includes a request for accommodation.

Debt problems

You may be able to get legal aid if:

  • You are at risk of losing your home because of mortgage arrears.
  • You are in debt and you are being taken to court by a creditor wanting to sell your home.
  • A creditor wants to make you bankrupt.


You may be able to get legal aid if you have been unlawfully discriminated against by someone who provides you with goods or services, for example, your landlord, a shop or hotel, or by an association (a group of people such as a sports club or political party), or by somebody who works for a public authority such as the police or the NHS.

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).
  • Sexual orientation.
  • Gender reassignment or being on the way to gender reassignment.

Community care problems

Community care refers to social or health care provided or arranged for you by your local council or health authority.

You may be able to get legal aid if your local council is not providing you with the help that you need because of an illness or disability, such as help with personal care, services to enable you to remain in your own home, aids and adaptations in your home, direct payments, personal budgets, and support when leaving hospital.

You may also be able to get legal aid:

  • If you are unhappy with the care that you are getting in a residential or nursing home or a hospital.
  • To challenge the closure of a care home or hospital.
  • If there is a dispute between your council and the NHS about funding your care, including NHS continuing care.
  • For advice about Disabled Facilities Grants, for example if your council says you aren’t eligible for one and you want advice about whether their decision is legally correct.

Clinical (or medical) negligence

You may be able to get legal aid to claim compensation for clinical negligence if:

  • your child has suffered a brain injury resulting in severe disability during pregnancy, childbirth or in the first eight weeks of its life.

Clinical negligence is when a health professional causes you injury or damage because they did something they shouldn’t or didn’t do something they should.

Mental capacity

The Court of Protection make decisions on financial or welfare matters for people who can’t make decisions at the time they need to be made because they lack ‘mental capacity’. You may be able to get legal aid if the Court of Protection is going to decide whether:

  • you have the mental capacity to make a particular decision yourself,
  • to deprive you of your liberty under the Mental Capacity Act,
  • to appoint a deputy to make ongoing decisions for you,
  • to allow someone other than you to make a one-off decision on your behalf, or
  • to register a lasting power of attorney or enduring power of attorney.


You may be able to get legal aid for advice and some help in relation to an inquest into the death of a member of your family. This can include situations where the death took place in prison, in police custody, in immigration detention or psychiatric care.

Judicial review

Judicial review is what the law calls a particular type of court case when a judge reviews a public body’s decision or action and decides whether or not it was lawful. Public bodies are organisations like your local council, a school, a police force or a government department.

Other problems

These are not the only legal problems you can 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 you speak to a solicitor who specialises in the area of law you want help with.

November 2016

Share this content Email, print or share via social media