About 75% of Scottish adults qualify financially for civil legal aid.
How do I tell you about my finances?
When you apply for civil legal aid, we need to see evidence of your income and capital. It is important that you read the guidance we provide about completing the application form and providing supporing documentation, such as payslips, bank statements or benefit award letters. We also need to see information about your main expenditure, such as payment towards loans or payments for childcare.
If you do not provide us with this information and documentation we may not be able to deal with your application or we may have to refuse your application or have to ask you to pay more than perhaps you may need to. If we find out that you did not tell us information after we have granted legal aid, we may have to remove your legal aid and in some circumstances we may have to refer the matter to the police.
We need to know about your income for 12 months from the date of your application for civil legal aid and we need to know about capital for as long as the case lasts. Here are some common things you need to tell us about:
- if you change benefits or your wages go up or down
- if you marry or divorce or have a partner or separate
- if you, your spouse or partner buy or sell a property or plan to do so
- if you get money, for example, from an inheritance or a win
Our staff will always be happy to help you with any enquiries about your application, particularly with regard to the documents you need to provide. You can call the Financial Assessment Unit on 0131 240 2082.
Is it only my income and capital you need to know about?
No. If you have a partner or spouse we will usually need to know about and take into account all of their income and capital too. The main exceptions to this are if your partner or spouse is the opponent in your case or if the relationship has ended.
If the application is by a person under 18 years or still in full-time education, we may have to take into account the income and capital of their parents or others who have accepted them into their family.
When we refer to "your" income or capital that includes the income and capital of your spouse or partner and for a child we mean it to include any adult such as a parent whose resources have to be taken into account.
How do you calculate my income and capital?
You can have disposable income of up to £26,239 and still qualify. 'Income' means anything that is paid to you, for example, earnings, benefits, pensions or bonuses. Some benefits or credits are not taken into account when working out how much income you have. It is important that you tell us about all benefits or credits you receive. Disposable income is your income after taking off allowances for outgoings such as rent, people who are dependent on you and other essential expenses.
There is also a limit of £13,017 on your disposable capital. 'Capital' means anything you have of value, such as money in the bank or building society or any similar organisation, savings or investments or items of value such as premium bonds. We do not take into account the value of your main home but we do take into account the value of any other non-essential property such as second homes, caravans, jewellery (excluding wedding and engagement rings) and antiques.
There are some occasions when we do not take property into account when deciding how much capital you have. For example, the property may be what your legal problem is about and it may not be clear who will own it at the end of the case. This will only apply when transfer of ownership of the property is at issue in the case. Your solicitor should discuss this with you or you can discuss it with our Principal Sums Team on 0131 240 1998.
Will I have to pay anything for my case?
If we decide you qualify for legal aid, depending on your income and any capital you have, you may have to pay a contribution towards the cost of your legal aid. If it is a contribution from your income, you can usually pay this in instalments. If it is from your capital, you will usually have to pay this in one payment. You may need to use money you have or kept for another purpose or you have to sell something you own.
These are difficult decisions but it is important that you know this before you proceed. These are the decisions that privately paying clients have to make and it is important that people applying for legal aid are not placed in a better position thatn a privately paying client. You can find out more in the section below: What's the most I'm likely to have to pay for civil legal aid?
At the end of the case, the law says that the legal aid fund should only pay for the case if is no money available from expenses recovered from your opponent, any contribution you have had to pay or any property you win or keep in the case.
It is the Board that decides if an applicant qualifies for civil legal aid. The criteria to be considered are:
Your solicitor will tell us about the legal aspects of your case. We need to know:
- whether the court can deal with the case
- whether you are entitled to be involved in the case
- if you have a reasonable chance of winning your case
- if the case involves money or property, whether there is a reasonable chance of recovering that money or property from your opponent(s)
- what attempts you have made to settle the case without going to court.
If your disposable annual income is £3,521 or less, you won't have to pay a contribution from income.
If it's more than £3,521 but £11,540 or less, you may have to pay 1/3 of the difference between £3,521 and your disposable income.
If it's more than £11,540 but £15,743 or less, you may have to pay:
- 1/3 of the difference between £3,521 and £11,540 plus
- 1/2 the difference between £11,541 and your disposable income.
If it's more than £15,743 you may have to pay:
- 1/3 of the difference between £3,521 and £11,540 plus
- 1/2 the difference between £11,541 and £15,743 plus
- all the remaining disposable income between £15,744 and £26,239.
You do not have to work this out yourself, we will do the calculation for you and show you how we have calculated your contribution.
Do I have to make a contribution?
You may also have to pay a contribution from any capital you have.
You may not have to pay all of the assessed contribution and you may be able to get some of your contribution back - for full information please read our leaflet (PDF). If your solicitor's estimate of how much the case will cost is less than the contribution amount, we will re-set your contribution to the solicitor's estimate. For example, if we assess your contribution as £2500 but your solicitor estimates that the case will cost £1500, we will re-set your contribution to £1500.
For civil legal aid, the Board collects the contribution. Contributions from capital are usually payable immediately and contributions from income are usually payable by instalments. If you do not pay your contribution, we can stop your legal aid and still make you pay for any costs we have had to pay for.
However, if you contact us to discuss problems with making payments, we will always do our best to help. It may be that we can change the arrangements for payment or, if your circumstances have changed, we may be able to reassess the amount that you have to pay.
If we have to suspend or stop your legal aid because you have not paid your contribution, we will not pay your solicitor for any further work and they may not do any further work for you.
Advice and assistance is available for any matter of Scots law and allows a solicitor to give advice on problems an individual may have before court proceedings are raised.
In advice and assistance the solicitor decides if an applicant meets the eligibility tests, which are that the matter must relate to Scots law and the applicant meets the financial eligibility criteria.
Legal aid is available. We grant most applications for legal aid for these cases. Most people don't pay, or pay very little, towards their legal aid. The Scottish Legal Aid Board does not give legal advice. If you want to find a legal aid solicitor see the quick links box above.
We grant more than 80% of applications for legal aid for mortgage rights and repossession cases.
Some media reports have suggested that even if you get legal aid for cases such as these, you could end up owing the Board thousands of pounds or even losing your house to pay a debt to the Board.
Depending on your income and capital, and on whether you win your case, you could have to pay something towards your legal aid – but you certainly won’t have to sell your house to do so.
You may have to pay a contribution – you can normally do this in instalments over as much as 48 months (and if you have difficulty in paying over this period, we may be able to arrange another payment schedule with you). Use the calculators in the quick links box above to get an idea of the maximum contribution you might have to pay.
If we grant legal aid, we will tell you the maximum contribution you will have to pay. But if your solicitor estimates the case is likely to cost less than this, we can initially limit the contribution you pay to the amount they estimate. (Although if the case ends up costing more than the estimate, you may have to pay the full amount we originally assessed you had to pay.)
If you are successful in your case, you may have to pay something towards the cost of the case from the property that you manage to keep (this is sometimes called clawback). However, this only happens in about half the cases. If you do have to pay clawback, the average cost is around £200 for advice and assistance and £400 for civil legal aid.
You don’t have to pay immediately – you can put it off until you sell the house (even if you don't sell it for many years) by granting a standard security in favour of the Board or you can pay in instalments. You will also have to pay interest on the amount due. No one has ever had to sell their house to pay the debt to the Board – and without legal aid they would probably have lost title to the property.
Links to more advice
If you need advice about mortgage rights or repossessions, but don't want to consult a solicitor at this stage, there are various other organisations that may be able to offer you some help. We give some links below to debt advice available on some other websites.