New changes to family legal aid

Wed 15th Mar 2023

Changes to family legal aid have recently come into force across the UK, as well as a new option for domestic abuse assessments. Shelley Workman from our family team looks at what the new rules are.

As of this month, the scope of means-free legal aid is being extended for parents and those with parental responsibility. This extension applies when they are seeking to oppose applications for placement and adoption orders in public family law proceedings involving local authorities. Parents are represented in care proceedings without being means tested.

However, before March 1st, if parents wanted to challenge applications for an adoption order after care proceedings had concluded, they would have to be assessed for legal aid, not only on the merits of their case, but also their financial means.

These new rules mean parents and those with parental responsibility will be assessed on the merits of their case only.

Getting legal help

Challenging an adoption or placement application is a daunting task. It’s important that parents and those with parental responsibility have access to the right legal help from the start so they know exactly what is involved.

What these new rules do is help people get the legal advice they need to stay informed of the proceedings and the implications of any orders made, making the system more accessible for all.

It means parents who want to oppose applications for placement or adoption will no longer have the added worry of their financial circumstances preventing them from securing legal help.

Evidence of domestic abuse

The other big change to happen this month concerns domestic abuse assessments. Quite often in matters concerning children, divorce or other family proceedings, domestic abuse is a key issue and one of the ways of accessing legal aid is to demonstrate you are a victim of domestic abuse.

Up until now prospective clients had to provide a ‘domestic abuse assessment’ carried out at a face-to-face appointment by their GP or other health professional. This became much more difficult for clients to provide over the course of the pandemic when many appointments were taking place by telephone or video conferencing.

As of this month, it will be possible for people to have their domestic abuse assessments carried out a by health professional over the phone or by video conference. This is a very positive change which we hope will make things a lot easier for those wishing to obtain legal aid.

Saving time

Having the assessment done remotely will save time and make the process that little bit quicker. It could take weeks for clients to get this evidence together if they are having to wait for an in-person appointment to see their doctor. Being able to do this over the phone or online will be much more convenient for many people.

Widening of criteria

Other changes in the pipeline include new rules affecting the scope of family legal aid in relation to special guardianship orders (SGOs) for family private law proceedings. This is due to take effect from 1st May 2023.

All of these developments are a really positive step in making sure that the people at the heart of these often complex cases have access to the advice they need to stay informed and well represented at every stage.

To speak to a member of our family team, you can complete our contact us form online or give us a call on 0800 328 3282.

Wed 15th Mar 2023

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