Is Legal Aid still available to get advice about the services a person with disabilities, or their carer, is entitled to receive from the Council’s social services, or the NHS?
Rumours of the death of legal aid have been slightly exaggerated. This area of the law is known as ‘Community Care’ or ‘Health and Social Care’, and legal aid is still available if you qualify financially. You will qualify if you (that means you and your partner jointly) have savings of under £8,000 and you have a fairly low income. If you receive certain social security benefits, and you have savings below the limit, you will qualify automatically, but you do not need to be on social security benefits in order to qualify for legal aid. For example a couple with 2 children paying a mortgage or rent of £400 a month would be able to have a net income – that means after tax and national insurance is taken off, but including all other benefits, tax credit or other income – of around £1895 per month. DLA (Disability Living Allowance), Attendance Allowance or PIP (Personal Independence Payment) are not included in the calculation. The Legal Aid Agency has a simple calculator you can use to find out if you will qualify for legal aid. You can access it at http://civil-eligibility-calculator.justice.gov.uk/
Of course being eligible for legal aid is not much use unless you can find a solicitor specialising in this area of law, and here the news is not so good. This is a specialist area of the law, and so most solicitors dealing in other areas of law will know little or nothing about it. You should always try to get legal advice from someone who is a specialist in that area. However because the rates at which solicitors get paid for this type of work has not been increased in over 15 years, but rather have been cut twice in that period, solicitors get paid between £16 and £48 per hour for providing initial advice about these issues. As a result there are hardly any solicitors left who are doing this sort of work. You need first to identify solicitors near you who have a ‘Community Care’ contract with the Legal Aid Agency. You can do this using the website http://find-legal-advice.justice.gov.uk/ Not all of the firms you find will be prepared to offer advice to individuals with disabilities and their carers about their care packages so it is important to ask.
We have a Community Care contract and can offer this type of advice. If you have any queries please feel free to ring us on 0191 275 2626.
Blog by Simon Garlick, Head of the Health and Social Care Department