Tag Archives: legal aid

President of the Family Division’s Anger at Legal Aid Cuts

The President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, was faced with a case where the parents wanted to oppose the removal of their child from their care and place him for adoption.  In circumstances like this, care proceedings would be issued and funding available for the parents, however, this is a case where care proceedings were concluded in November 2012.  When the care order was made there were concerns about the child remaining with his parents as both had learning difficulties, however, following an intense assessment and package of support the local authority’s plan was for the child to remain in his parents care with further assessments carried out in relation to the extended family.

One aspect of a final care order is that it gives the local authority parental responsibility for the child, alongside his parents, however, if they had concerns about the care the child was receiving from his parents then they had the power to remove him from his parents care.  Unfortunately in March 2014 the local authority had concerns and therefore gave the parents one month’s notice of their intention to remove the child from their care.

In these circumstances there is no automatic right to funding.   The parents need to provide details of their income to see if the are eligible for funding.  In this case the parents were £34.64 over the threshold set by the Legal Aid Agency.

This is the issue that the President had; proceedings had been brought by the local authority to separate the parents from their child, as they were not care proceedings the parents were not eligible for funding automatically and their income was too high for them to qualify for legal aid.  The parents had the option to pay for a solicitor privately but their limited income made this impossible.  The local authority had funding in place to instruct a solicitor and the child was granted funding automatically as well as he has no income.

In his judgment the President stated;

“What I have to grapple with is the profoundly disturbing fact that the parents do not qualify for legal aid but lack the financial resources to pay for legal representation in circumstances where, to speak plainly, it is unthinkable that they should have to face the local authority’s application without proper representation…..In these circumstances it is unthinkable that the parents should have to face the local authority’s application without proper representation. To require them to do so would be unconscionable; it would be unjust; it would involve a breach of their rights under Articles 6 and 8 of the [European convention on human rights]; it would be a denial of justice. The child is also entitled to a fair trial…..Thus far the state has simply washed its hands of the problem, leaving the solution to the problem which the state itself has created – for the state has brought the proceedings but declined all responsibility for ensuring that the parents are able to participate effectively in the proceedings it has brought – to the goodwill, the charity, of the legal profession.  This is, it might be thought, both unprincipled and unconscionable. Why should the state leave it to private individuals to ensure that the state is not in breach of [its] obligations under the convention? As Baker J said in the passage I have already quoted, “It is unfair that legal representation in these vital cases is only available if the lawyers agree to work for nothing.”

Samantha Sanders, a lawyer at the Adoption Legal Centre, commented

“This is unfortunately something we are seeing on a daily basis; clients who require our help and support to enable their families to stay together, yet without the support of legal aid they are unable to fund it themselves.  More and more solicitors are doing the work on a pro bono basis with no guarantee that funding will ever be made available.

New guidelines were brought in so that a decision is made as soon as possible for a child, yet if funding is not available for the parents to challenge the decisions made in relation to their child, it does questions the validity of the decisions made by the court and whether they are compatible with Article 6 (right to a fair trial) and 8 (right to a family life) of the Human Rights Act.  I believe that this is an issue we will be seeing more and more as time goes on.”

The judgement of the President, Sir James Munby, in this case can be found here.

The team at the Adoption Legal Centre are specialists in advising both adopters and potential adopters. We can help when adopters are facing challenging problems. If you require legal advice, please contact us on 01484 538421 or via e-mail.

Welfare Reform – Benefits Advice

The government’s plans for shaking up welfare reform are making many people anxious.

At Ridley & Hall Solicitors we believe that people who need help should be able to get personalised support and help during their lives if they are facing difficult times. The need for tailored welfare benefits advice has never been greater. Changes to welfare reform have started to hit individuals and families with low income and in June and October 2013 we will see some more reforms.

With funding cuts hitting the public and voluntary sector as well as big changes to Legal Aid, it is harder to seek out advice and help. Welfare rights advisers keep up to date. They seek to challenge unfair policy and get you the best outcome possible so that you can move forward with your life and support others who may be relying on you for care.

Are you claiming DLA?

You may have heard about the changes to Disability Living Allowance (DLA). For claimants aged 16 or over there is a new benefit called Personal Independence Payment (PIP) from June 2013. PIP is not means-tested and if you have disabilities, you may qualify. At present, DLA will remain for children under 16.

People over 16 already on DLA are expected to be assessed to transfer to PIP by the end of 2016.

Are you caring for a child with a disability?

Many grandparent or kinship carers are not aware that they may be able to claim DLA in respect of the child they are caring for.

For example: Does the child have a Statement of Educational Needs? If you are caring for a child with difficult behaviour, which could be an autistic spectrum disorder or attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) you should seek our advice? However, if it does not fit these categories, contact us for advice anyway.

It is vital that you have specialist advice as to whether you are receiving the right benefits for them and for you as a carer.

Are you approaching state retirement age?

Are you satisfied that you are getting the correct benefits and support? Welfare reform will bring some changes to benefits for older people in spite of government assurances that they will be protected. It is important to seek advice as to whether you or your partner could qualify for pension credit before October 2013. It is believed that around a third of pensioner households entitled to pension credit are not claiming it. Take up is low, especially amongst those that own their own home.

Other areas we can help with are:

  • Housing benefit and the impact of ‘bedroom tax’ decisions
  • Appeals in relation to employment and support allowance, attendance allowance and the benefits already mentioned above
  • Overpayment appeals and recovery
  • Complaints against the DWP for maladministration
  • Tax credits decisions and disputes

Our experienced welfare benefits adviser, Sangeeta Enright, would be happy to discuss your needs with you and offer advice with transparent details of fixed fees for different types of assistance. She specialises in disability benefits and has had training on autistic spectrum disorders. She has a record of success with her appeals and actively assists with negotiation and obtaining evidence. Sangeeta listens with empathy and gives pragmatic advice on your options.

We have a strong and dynamic Community Care team and we care about the issues that you are facing. Our team can help you in a variety of ways. As well as individualised, practical welfare benefits advice, we also provide the following:

  • Assessment of social care needs
  • Care/support plans
  • Direct payments for care
  • Kinship and adoption support
  • Fostering/SGO/residence order allowances
  • Adaptations to the home
  • Funding for social care
  • Judicial review
  • Court of Protection

Please contact Sangeeta or a member of the Community Care team on 01484 538 421.

Please note: We can no longer offer advice and assistance funded by Legal Aid for welfare benefits.

Ridley & Hall Solicitors put Families First

Ridley & Hall have launched a new service to help separating parents who do not qualify for legal aid after the breakdown of their relationship.Meena Kumari, Head of Family First at Ridley & Hall Solicitors

Legal aid was removed for most private law family matters from 1st April when the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 came into force.

Partner Meena Kumari is keen to support families in need of legal advice:-

“When a relationship breaks down it can be devastating.  We hope that our new service called Family First will provide the right support at the right price for our clients”.

The new service offers an innovative approach following the loss of legal aid.  Meena Kumari believes that Family First offers clients a greater freedom of choice and opportunity to save money on legal costs;

“We let clients choose the level of support they require for divorce and cases involving children.  The levels of support include a checking service for court documents, a do it yourself with help service where clients pick and choose when they need help and a pay as you go service.  There is complete transparency in relation to legal costs and there are no hidden fees”.

Ridley & Hall Solicitors are an award winning firm. The Family First team are Accredited members of Resolution, a member of the Law Society’s Advanced Family Panel and trained in Collaborative law.

In addition, Ridley & Hall has set up a mediation department, headed by Vicky Medd.  Vicky is a family solicitor with over 20 years experience, and is a very experienced family mediator.  Vicky believes that clients should choose how they want to resolve their disputes.  “Mediation is a cost effective and speedy way of assisting clients in resolving their dispute.  Over the years I have helped many participants resolve disputes between themselves, without the intervention of the Court.  Costs have been significantly reduced and participants are in charge of the process, making the decisions themselves.”

For further information click here, call us on 01484 538421 or email us.

Accident Claims and Inheritance Disputes Deadline – 31st March 2013

Crucial reforms affecting the funding of litigation cases are coming into effect on 1st April 2013.  The Jackson Reforms, as they are called, are the biggest shakeup of the civil litigation system in England and Wales since 1999.

At the moment, for example, anyone who wants to bring a claim against the estate of someone who has died who is on a low income, may qualify for legal aid.  After 31st March 2013 legal aid will no longer be available for this kind of case.  So if you think that you might want to bring a claim and would qualify on financial grounds it’s vitally important that you should get legal advice now.

If legal aid is granted to you before the end of March then your funding will continue (unless your financial circumstances improve).  After the end of the month -  unless you can persuade a solicitor to take your case on a no win no fee basis  – you may not be able to bring a claim at all.  Sarah Young, Partner at Ridley & Hall Solicitors comments: -

“Although the legal profession is well aware of the changes ahead, very few members of the public are aware that legal aid is being withdrawn for a huge number of cases.  I specialise in inheritance disputes and I know that they can cost a lot of money – without legal aid a lot of people will struggle to bring a claim and I would urge anyone who thinks they might have a claim to get advice now.”

It’s not just inheritance disputes that are going to be affected by the reforms.  Anyone who has been injured in an accident will be familiar with no win no fee agreements (also called conditional fee agreements).  These agreements mean that if you lose your case your solicitor is not paid and if you win they are paid by the other side’s insurers who also have to pick up the tab for a success fee (which is an extra amount that your solicitor is entitled to charge for taking on the risk of being paid nothing if they lose).  At the moment insurers also pay for the accident victim’s insurance cover – this protects them against the risk of having to pay the other side’s costs if they lose.  From the 1st April 2013 the success fee and the insurance premium will have to come out of the injured person’s compensation.

In personal injury cases up to a maximum of 25% of damages may have to be paid.  In other cases, for example in inheritance disputes where there is a no win no fee agreement, up to 50% of a client’s compensation may have to be paid to their solicitor.

Sarah Young has this message: – “The obvious point to make is that if you think that you may have a case, you need to get specialist legal advice urgently and if a no win no fee agreement is the best way to fund your claim you must sign one before the 1st April if you want to receive all of your compensation.  Any agreement signed after 1st April will be subject to the new regime and you may well be worse off.  Insurance companies, who have lobbied the government intensively over these reforms, will be hugely better off.  Those who have been injured or suffered loss, through no fault of their own, will be penalised”.

Sarah Young is a Partner with Ridley and Hall solicitors. She specialises in contentious probate and personal injury. Sarah has an LLM in Personal Injury Law and has a record of bringing the most complex cases to a successful conclusion.

For further information please contact Sarah Young of Ridley and Hall, Queens House, 35 Market Street, Huddersfield HD1 2HL on 01484 538421 or mobile 07860 165850.

Dramatic Legal Aid Funding Withdrawal – Make an Appointment with a Family Lawyer Now

You may not be aware that as of 1 April 2013, most legal help and full public funding (levels of legal aid) in relation to family law matters, are to be withdrawn by the government via the Legal Services Commission.  This means that AFTER 31 March 2013, if you are in receipt of state benefits and/or are on a low income, you may not be able to afford to instruct a solicitor in respect of your family law difficulties.

From 1 April 2013, in most cases, public funding will simply not be available for issues such as divorce/civil partnership dissolution, financial issues and private Children Act issues such as contact and residence applications (public funding will be available in public Children Act issues, eg where there are “care proceedings” and have the involvement of social services, child abduction cases and cases of forced marriage).

The only exception to the above will be where the person seeking legal advice and representation will be the victim of domestic abuse (or an adult seeking to protect an abused child) – but even then the Legal Services Commission’s criteria will be very strict and they will require firm evidence of this alleged abuse before the case can be pursued with the assistance of public funding.

This means that from 1 April 2013 in the majority of family cases, public funding, will not be available to assist individuals and families with their family law issues and will severely impede, from a financial perspective, their access to justice and the specialist expert legal advice and assistance that is available and necessary.

The greatest section of society that this will affect will be the children of separated parents.  Their parent will not have the assistance of a qualified legal individual to guide and advise them through an often very emotional and stressful procedure, which often end in court proceedings.  That child/children/grandchild, through absolutely no fault of their own, may lose contact with their parent or other family members, including siblings and half-siblings, simply because of the costs involved and the parent’s/grandparent’s prevention from obtaining legal assistance because of the demise of legal aid.

The courts are also concerned that because of this financial obstacle, the court process will be “clogged up” and slowed down dramatically due to people trying to represent themselves. In most cases, the delays will be because of a lack of understanding of the law and legal processes by those individuals.

If you are in receipt of state benefits and/or are on a low income and are experiencing family difficulties due to a breakdown of a relationship and require advice and assistance on divorce/civil partnerships, financial issues and/or children matters, then please contact us as soon as possible as the deadline for legal help and public funding ends on 31 March 2013.  We will be able to assess your eligibility and provide you with a wealth of advice and assistance in respect of all family law matters.

Now is the time to act.  Please call the office on 01484 538421 and ask to speak to a member of the Family Team or e-mail us at familyteam@ridleyandhall.co.uk.