Make sure you know what the Legal Aid Agency expects on clients’ means.
Keeping up to date in the ever-changing world of legal aid isn’t always easy. Subscribing to Legal Action
is a good start, as is following the LAG Legal Aid Handbook
blog and Twitter feed
. You can also subscribe to the Legal Aid Agency’s (LAA’s) own email updating service
It is also well worth joining the Legal Aid Practitioners Group
(LAPG). Among the benefits are the regular email updates from the group’s director, Carol Storer. Carol regularly receives queries from members and circulates them anonymously, so that you receive the distilled wisdom of the legal aid community, but nobody else knows who asked the question. LAPG also works with the LAA and circulates useful information from it.
LAPG recently received some certificate eligibility tips from the LAA. Some provoked discussion among members, as the LAA’s guidance is based on the general position, and you will see below that you may need to consult the regulations in particular cases.
Bank statements need to cover the three months preceding the computation date (ie, the date of delegated functions or, for substantive applications, the date of submission). They must have a visible name and account number, show all transactions (credits and debits) and have a running balance.
To save queries later, highlight and explain any miscellaneous credits on the client’s bank statements, particularly where they are:
•marked with the client’s name and an account number that does not correspond to any of the accounts declared on the application;
•repeatedly from the same source/individual; and
•cash credits/withdrawals over £2,000.
Benefits (eg, child benefit, child tax credit, working tax credit and housing benefit) are paid weekly, fortnightly or four-weekly and not monthly. The LAA asks you to check the client’s award letter and/or bank statements and enter the correct frequency of payment. Another useful tip is to provide all pages of benefit award letters as the information the LAA requires is very often near or at the end.
The standard child benefit amounts are as follows when adjusted to a monthly figure:
•one child: £89.70
•two children: £149.07
•three children: £208.43
•four children: £267.80
•five children: £327.17
•six children: £386.53
If the client rents, the LAA asks for a rent statement rather than, or in addition to, the client’s tenancy agreement. It also asks you to highlight all corresponding debits on the client’s bank statements. The LAA’s general approach (except in housing possession cases, where it will use the rent the client is liable to pay) is to include only the actual rent paid. If the full rental amount is not being met by the client, it will take an average of the payments made over the three-month computation period.
In some non-possession cases, you may need to bring Civil Legal Aid (Financial Resources and Payment for Services) Regulations 2013 SI No 480 reg 28 to the LAA’s attention as it can exercise discretion:
(1)Paragraphs (2) to (5) apply only if the individual is a householder.
(2)Subject to paragraph (4), in calculating the disposable income of the individual –
(a) the net rent payable by the individual in respect of their main or only dwelling must be deducted; and (b) where the individual resides in more than one dwelling, the Director must decide which is the main dwelling. […]
(4)Where the amount of net rent paid by the individual is less than the amount of net rent payable, the Director may deduct the lesser amount where the Director considers it is reasonable to do so in the circumstances … (emphasis added).
If the client is buying the property and paying a mortgage, the LAA asks you to highlight all corresponding debits on the client’s bank statements. If the client receives housing benefit, the LAA prefers a full copy of the most recent award letter, where possible.
In instances where the client pays for childcare, the LAA asks for a copy of the client’s receipts for the three months preceding the computation date, with all relevant debits on the client’s bank statements highlighted. The LAA will allow what the client usually pays on a regular basis, ie, the amount that s/he usually pays during 39 weeks of the year (term time). If your client’s circumstances are significantly different from this, you should provide a full explanation.