Legal aid is available for all cases involving social services, so you do not have to pay anything. Legal aid funding is referred to as “No Means No Merit” which means you do not have to pay for advice and representation at court or before proceedings are issued.
If the local authority provides you with a ‘letter before proceedings’, sometimes called a PLO letter or pre-proceedings letter, as a parent with parental responsibility you are entitled to legal aid. This funding permits a solicitor to advise you and engage in correspondence and negotiations with the local authority. It also allows a solicitor to attend the pre-proceedings meeting.
Once care proceedings are issued, if you are a respondent in those proceedings and you have parental responsibility (i.e. you are a parent), you are entitled to non-means assessed legal aid. This means that regardless of your income – rich or poor – you are eligible. Further, this legal aid is non-merits assessed which means that your prospects of success are not considered (your case could be strong or could be hopeless, you will still be eligible). In short, legal aid is automatic.
It is not the same, however, if you are a respondent or intervenor, invited to join the care proceedings, without parental responsibility (such as a grandparent, family member, a boyfriend / partner, neighbour or third party accused of causing harm). In this case legal aid will be subject to a means and merits assessment. This means that the Legal Aid Agency will consider your income and your prospects of success. Legal aid is therefore not guaranteed. If legal aid is granted, it will be subject to review so if your circumstances change (whether that be financially or your prospects of success) your legal aid could be withdrawn. Both you and your solicitor have a duty to keep the Legal Aid Agency updated.
Is it possible to transfer legal aid?
If you want to transfer your case to Kings Solicitors because you do not feel your case is being progressed as you would like? or you are not happy with the advice you have received, or your instructions are not being followed, or your Solicitor is not keeping you updated. In these circumstances you are entitled to transfer your case and legal aid to Kings Solicitors. This can be dealt with swiftly without affecting your case.