Information for applicants

Applying for legal aid: step by step

Find out more about what applying for legal aid involves

If you have questions about the application procedure, filling in forms or the types of documents you need to send, ask your solicitor or contact us.

We can’t give legal advice. we can only give information on applying for legal aid.

If you want advice specific to your case you will need to speak to your solicitor.

STEP 1: Your first appointment with a solicitor

  • What to take to your solicitor appointment

    Check with the solicitor before your appointment so you know exactly what to take with you.

    In your application for legal aid, we need to see evidence of your income and capital.

    We also need to see information about your main outgoings, such as payment towards loans or payments for childcare.

    You may need to take along information about the following for both yourself and your partner (unless you're separated or they are the person you have a legal problem with):

    • Your most recent bank statements showing your income and capital or savings.
    • Recent wage slips, or accounts if you're self-employed.
    • Pension payment advice from an ex-employer or your pension or benefit book.
    • Current benefit award letters or notifications.
    • Details of all savings or accounts – bank/building society/post office statement or passbooks.

    If you’ve been charged by the police you should also take any paperwork that the police, courts or procurator fiscal have given to you.

    If you are in custody your legal aid solicitor will tell you what you need to do to show what your financial situation is.

  • Why do you need to tell us about your finances?

    We use criteria set by the Scottish Parliament to decide if an applicant qualifies financially for legal aid.

    You must show that you are financially eligible or your solicitor cannot do any work for you. They need to know about your income, savings and children or other people you are supporting.

    You may also have to give information about a partner if they live with you.

    If you do not provide us with information and documentation about your finances we may:

      • Not be able to deal with your application.
      • Have to refuse your application.
      • Have to ask you to pay more than perhaps you may need to.

    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.

    For civil cases you can call the Financial Assessment Unit on 0131 240 2082.

    For criminal cases, you can call Criminal Applications on 0131 226 7061, choosing Option 2, then Option 1.

    For children's cases you can call on 0131 226 7061, choosing Option 2, then Option 3.

  • What can happen if information is missing or wrong

    If we find out that you did not tell us information after we have granted legal aid, we may have to withdraw your legal aid.

    In some circumstances we may have to refer the matter to the police.

    We check with the Department for Work and Pensions, banks and employers to make sure the information we get from you is accurate.

    The information you give must be true and complete – if it is not:

    • We may withdraw any legal aid we grant you.
    • You may have to repay the cost of legal aid you have received for your case.
    • You could face criminal charges if you have misled us or your solicitor.
  • What can you expect from your solicitor?

    Your solicitor should:

    • Explain to you what having legal assistance will mean for you, including what you may have to pay for your case.
    • Deal with your case in the most efficient and effective manner.
    • Keep you informed about what is happening with your application for legal aid and with your case.
    • Explain to you why you are not getting legal aid if your application is unsuccessful.

    Your legal aid covers all your expenses in the case for the time legal aid is in place.

    This includes the cost of experts or advocates where we have agreed to these.

    Your solicitor should not ask you to pay them anything towards the case, except for any contribution assessed for advice and assistance.

STEP 2: Assessing your eligibility

You'll usually need to show that you can't afford to pay for legal help yourself and your problem is serious. You may have to pay some money towards the legal costs of your case, or pay costs back later. You might not need to pay anything at all, depending on your financial position and the type of legal help you need.

  • What we must check to see if you are eligible for legal aid

    Civil legal aid

    You will need to complete a form when you apply for civil legal aid. Your solicitor will give you the correct one.

    You will need to send evidence of all your income, savings/capital and outgoings. To do this you will have to give the following:

    • Copies of your most recent three months’ bank statements for all bank accounts you hold.
    • Copies of your three most recent payslips.
      • If you are self-employed, you will need to send us copies of your year-end accounts, including your balance sheet. If these are not available we will need a copy of your self-assessment tax return you made to HMRC and a copy of the tax return assessment.
    • Details of any savings/capital you have.

    If you do not fully complete the form or provide the evidence needed this will cause a delay in your application being processed.

    If you need more information please call our Financial Assessment Unit on 0131 240 2082.

    Criminal legal aid

    You will need to give your solicitor full details about your income and your savings. Your solicitor will ask you to sign a form and you will have to provide your solicitor with the following information:

    • Copies of your most recent bank statements for all bank accounts you hold.
    • Copies of your most recent payslips (if your earnings are not shown on the bank statement).
      • If you are self-employed, you will need to send us copies of your year-end accounts, including your balance sheet. If these are not available we will need a copy of your self-assessment tax return you made to HMRC and a copy of the tax return assessment.
    • Copies of a benefit award if you are in receipt of benefit (if receipt of benefit is not shown on the bank statement).
    • Copies of any household payments you make such as rent, mortgage, council tax, (if these payments are not shown on your bank statement).
    • Details of any capital and savings you have.

    If you do not provide this information to your solicitor, this will cause a delay in your application being processed. If you need more information please call the Criminal Applications department on 0131 226 7061, choosing Option 2 and then Option 1.

    If you are unable to provide any of the information we have requested please contact us in order that we can discuss what alternatives we could accept.

    Children's legal aid

    You will need to give your solicitor full details about your income and your savings. Your solicitor will ask you to sign a form and you will have to provide your solicitor with the following information:

    • Copies of your most recent bank statements for all bank accounts you hold.
    • Copies of your most recent payslips (if your earnings are not shown on the bank statement).
      • If you are self-employed, you will need to send us copies of your year-end accounts, including your balance sheet. If these are not available we will need a copy of your self-assessment tax return you made to HMRC and a copy of the tax return assessment.
    • Copies of a benefit award if you are in receipt of benefit (if receipt of benefit is not shown on the bank statement).
    • Copies of any household payments you make such as rent, mortgage, council tax, (if these payments are not shown on your bank statement).
    • Details of any capital and savings you have.

    If you do not provide this information to your solicitor, this will cause a delay in your application being processed. If you need more information please call the Children's Applications department on 0131 226 7061, choosing Option 2 and then Option 3.

    Contact us

    If you are unable to send us any of the information we have requested please contact us to discuss what alternatives we could accept.

  • How we calculate your income and capital in a civil application

    In your application for civil legal aid, we need to see evidence of your income and capital.

    We also need to see information about your main outgoings, such as payment towards loans or payments for childcare.

    Income

    '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.

    You can have disposable income of up to £26,239 and still qualify.

    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.

    There is also a limit of £13,017 on your disposable capital.

    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.

  • How we calculate your income and capital in a children’s application

    In your application for childrens legal aid, we need to see evidence of your income and capital.

    We also need to see information about your main outgoings, such as your mortgage or rent, council tax, payment towards loans or payments for childcare.

    Income

    '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.

    You can have disposable income of up to £222 per week and still qualify. In some circumstances you may still qualify for legal aid if your disposable income is over £222 due to the nature of your case.

    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.

    There is also a limit of £7,405 on your disposable capital. As with income, if your capital exceeds that amount you can sometimes still qualify depending on the nature of your case.

    We do not take into account the value of your home that you live. We do take into account the value of any other property such as second homes (this could include the sole property you own but don't live in and rent out), caravans, jewellery (excluding wedding and engagement rings) and antiques.

  • How we calculate your income and capital in a criminal application

    In your application for criminal legal aid, we need to see evidence of your income and capital.

    We also need to see information about your main outgoings, such as your mortgage or rent, council tax, payment towards loans or payments for childcare.

    Income

    '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.

    You can have disposable income of up to £222 per week and still qualify. In some circumstances you may still qualify for legal aid if your disposable income is over £222 due to the nature of your case.

    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.

    There is also a limit of £1,716 on your disposable capital. As with income, if your capital exceeds that amount you can sometimes still qualify depending on the nature of your case.

    We do not take into account the value of your home that you live. We do take into account the value of any other property such as second homes (this could include the sole property you own but don't live in and rent out), caravans, jewellery (excluding wedding and engagement rings) and antiques.

  • Is it only your income and capital we need to know about?

    No.

    Civil legal aid

    If you have a partner or spouse then in civil cases 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.

    For a child we mean it to include any adult such as a parent whose resources have to be taken into account.

    Children's legal aid

    If you have a partner or spouse then in children's cases 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 have a contrary interest in the outcome of the case or if the relationship has ended.

    Criminal legal aid

    We need to know about your partner or spouse's income if their disposable income is over £222 a week. The only exception to this is if they have a contrary interest in your case. This is when they are the complainer, co-accused or are a Crown witness.

  • The other tests for civil legal aid apart from financial

    We use criteria set by the Scottish Parliament to decide if you qualify for civil legal aid.

    As well as financial test we must consider:

    • Whether you have a plausible case.
    • Whether it is reasonable in all circumstances that civil legal aid is made available.

    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.
  • The other tests for summary criminal legal aid apart from financial

    We use criteria set by the Scottish Parliament to decide if you qualify for summary criminal legal aid.

    As well as a financial test, we must consider whether it is in the interests of justice to make legal aid available to you. Your solicitor will tell us about the legal aspects of your case. We need to know:

    • Whether you are likely to receive a custodial sentence or lose your job if you are convicted.
    • Whether your case involves any complex areas of law.
    • Whether you have any disabilities which would make it difficult for you to state your own case at court.
    • Whether it is in the interests of somebody else in the case that you are represented.
    • Whether you have a defence to the charge.
    • Whether you have been remanded in custody for the trial.
  • The other tests for children’s legal aid apart from financial

    We use criteria set by the Scottish Parliament to decide if you qualify for children's legal aid.

    As well as financial test we must consider:

    • Whether you any other rights or facilities.
    • Whether it is reasonable in all circumstances that children's legal aid is made available.

    and if you are a child we must also consider:

    • Whether it is in your best interests that legal aid is made available

    Your solicitor will tell us about the legal aspects of your case. We need to know:

    • Whether you are entitled to be involved in the case.
    • All background information in relation to the case.
    • Whether you agree or deny the statement of grounds.
    • The basis for any appeal and if you have a reasonable chance of winning your case.
  • What if your circumstances change?

    If your circumstances change this might affect your eligibility.

    Civil legal aid

    For civil legal aid, we need to know about your income for 12 months from the date of your application and we need to know about capital for as long as the case lasts.

    If your income changes after the 12 months has passed and you are having difficulty paying your monthly instalments you should contact our Collections Team on 0131 240 1885.

    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.

    For example, you need to tell us if you move house, start to live with a partner, have changes in your benefits and/or employment or get an inheritance.

    We will decide if the change affects your eligibility.

    The best way to do this is to telephone our Financial Assessment Unit on 0131 240 2082.

    Alternatively, you can email or write to us. Please include your legal aid reference number when you contact us.

    Criminal legal aid

    If your circumstances change during the course of your case this might affect your eligibility to continue to receive criminal legal aid.

    If legal aid has been granted to you, you need to tell us of any changes in your financial circumstances during the course of the case.

    You need to tell us if your benefits or wages go up by the equivalent of more than £750 per year, or if your capital increases by more than £750.

    We will then decide if the change affects your eligibility to continue to receive criminal legal aid.

    Children's Legal Aid

    If your circumstances change during the course of your case this might affect your eligibility to continue to receive children's legal aid.

    If legal aid has been granted to you, you need to tell us of any changes in your financial circumstances during the course of the case.

    • If your income increases by £750 per year or more, or decreases by £300 per year, during the course of the case or
    • If your capital increases by £750 or more, during the course of the case.

    We will then decide if the change affects your eligibility to continue to receive children's legal aid.

STEP 3: Once your application is submitted

  • How long does an application take?

    The time it takes for a decision to be made on your application depends on the type of case.

    Criminal legal aid

    We are normally able to take a decision on your criminal legal aid application within a few days if we have all the information needed about your case and your financial circumstances.

    Where we need more information, we will tell you within a few days what we need and how you can send it to us.

    Civil legal aid

    Once we have all of the information we need about your case and your financial circumstances we will normally be able to take a decision on your application within 28 days.

    If we need more information from you about your finances we will let you know.

    If we need more information from your solicitor about the merits of your case we will get in touch with them.

    If we have to wait for any additional information it may mean we take longer to deal with your application.

    We usually also have to tell the opponent in your case that an application for legal aid has been made.

    An opponent gets 14 days (or 28 days if they live outside the United Kingdom) to send us any representations they might want to make about your application.

    Children's legal aid

    We are normally able to take a decision on a children’s legal aid application within a few days if we have all the information about your case and your financial circumstances that we need.

    If we need more information we will contact your solicitor to ask for this.

  • What if your application for legal aid is refused?

    If we refuse your application, we will tell you and your solicitor the reasons for this decision.

    You or your solicitor can ask us to reconsider our decision – in civil and criminal cases you have 15 days to do so from the date we refuse the application. In children's cases you have 14 days.

    If you ask us to reconsider the decision, make sure you tell us the reasons why we should.

    Some of the reasons we can refuse an application

    Criminal legal aid

    • Your disposable income is more than the normal limit for granting criminal legal aid.
    • Your disposable capital or savings are higher than the normal limit for granting criminal legal aid.
    • In summary criminal cases, we do not consider it is in the interests of justice to make legal aid available due to the nature of the charges and/or the other circumstances in the case.

    Civil legal aid

    • Your disposable income is more than the limit allowed for civil legal aid.
    • Your disposable capital exceeds the upper limit for civil legal aid and we don’t think there is a good reason to grant legal aid despite this.
    • We don’t think you have a legal basis for your application.
    • We don’t think it is reasonable for you to get legal aid for the case, for example because your prospects of success are not good or because you have not tried to resolve matters without going to court.
    • You have other rights and facilities that you can use for the case.

    Children's legal aid

    • Your disposable income is more than the normal limit for granting children’s legal aid.
    • Your disposable capital or savings are higher than the normal limit for granting children’s legal aid.
    • We don’t think it is reasonable to grant legal aid for the case.
    • You have other rights and facilities that you can use for the case.
  • What if you aren’t eligible for legal aid?

    If you don’t get legal aid, and your solicitor wants to work privately for you, you will have to pay for this.

    They must explain to you, and you must agree to, their terms of business before they can start working for you privately.

  • How will we use the information you give us?

    Access to information

    Your rights to information under data protection legislation and the Freedom of Information Act (Scotland) 2002.

    To carry out our work, we collect and use information about the people we deal with and the work done under legal assistance.

    Most of the information is about:

    • Individual people and their applications for legal aid.
    • The solicitors and advocates who carry out legal aid.
    • How the legal aid system is working – what help people are receiving and how much it costs.
    • How we run the legal aid system..

    As a public body, we have legal responsibilities to:

    • Give people access to information about how we work and how we make our decisions.
    • Tell you, if you ask, what information we keep about you, and correct it if it is wrong.

    Keep personal information confidential.

    Our leaflet Access to information explains:

    • What information you can expect us to give you, and what we can’t tell you.
    • How you can find out what information we hold about you.
    • How we will treat any information that we hold about you.
    • How you can get access to other records and official information we keep.

STEP 4: How we will contact you - and how you can contact us

  • Information and your solicitor

    We will contact your solicitor if there are any issues to do with the legal aspects of your application. They will provide the information.

    It is your responsibility to give information about your financial circumstances.

    Where you are asked to give information it will always be made clear where that information should be sent.

    If you have any doubts about where information should be sent or what information is needed, then please ask your solicitor or contact us.

  • How we will tell you about your legal aid

    We will usually contact you by letter to give any decisions about your legal aid or if we need more information.

    In some cases we may contact you by email or phone.

STEP 5: Paying towards the cost of your case

  • Will you have to pay anything for your case?

    If 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 you have to pay 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 than a privately paying client.

    At the end of the case, the law says that the legal aid fund should only pay for the case if there 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.

    Criminal cases

    You will not have to pay any contribution if you are granted criminal legal aid. However if your solicitor grants advice and assistance for your criminal case you may have to pay a contribution from your income, depending on your finances.

  • What’s the most you may have to pay for civil legal aid?

    Depending on your disposable annual income you may have to pay a contribution from income.

    We will do the calculation for you and show you how we have calculated your 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

    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.

    Example

    If we assess your contribution as £2,500 but your solicitor estimates that the case will cost £1,500, we will re-set your contribution to £1500.

    For civil legal aid, we collect the contribution.

    Paying the contribution

    Contributions from capital are usually payable immediately.

    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.

STEP 6: Once the case is underway

Not sure about legal aid words and terms?

Glossary and terms

Learn about some of the words, terms and acronyms used by us and your solicitor in legal aid cases.