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Will I get free legal advice if the Local Authority become involved with my family?

View profile for Chelsea  Harris
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Depending upon the extent of the involvement by the Local Authority, you may be eligible for free legal help under three levels of public funding Legal Help Level 1, Legal Help Level 2 or Full Representation.

The lowest level of Local Authority involvement is when your children are on a Child In Need Plan. This is a voluntary arrangement and gives families extra support where needed. Due to this being the lowest level of involvement, you are not required to seek legal advice and will not be eligible for any funding under the Legal Help Scheme.

The first formal stage when legal advice should be obtained is when a Child Protection Conference is arranged, legal funding for advice at this stage is under a Legal Help level 1 and is tested on a means and merits basis. Means testing looks at your financial situation such as your income, family circumstances including how many children you have and your essential living costs such as mortgage or rent. Your disposable income must not exceed £733 for you to qualify under the scheme.

If you are receiving Universal Credits then this is a passporting benefit and you will automatically qualify under the means test however, your capital will need to be assessed. Your capital will include the value of your house and any outstanding mortgage, any savings, investments, valuables (over a certain value) and any other capital you may have such as any money that is owed to you. If the total of these assets exceeds £8,000 then you will not be eligible for legal advice under Legal Help Level 1. Nevertheless, you can still obtain legal advice on a private funded basis from one of our solicitors in our Care Department. If you do qualify for the Legal Help Level 1 then this funding will allow a member of our Care Department to attend conferences with you to take detailed notes of what is discussed and provide you with advice, assistance and a summary of the conference afterwards. For more information relating to Child Protection Conferences, see our article here.

Please note, if you have a partner or spouse and you live together then their means will also be assessed for the purpose of legal advice under a Legal Help 1.

In completing the form one of our Care Team members will also need to consider that the merits test is met namely that there is likely to be sufficient benefit to you, having regard to all the circumstances of the case, including your circumstances, to justify the cost of the provision of legal help. Or in other words would a reasonable private paying individual of moderate means pay for the legal advice and assistance.

Should the Local Authority provide you with a Pre-Proceedings letter giving notice of the potential to issue care proceedings and you are the parent or person with parental responsibility for the child who is the subject of the intended proceedings you will qualify for legal advice and assistance under Legal Help level 2. The Pre-Proceedings letter you receive from the Local Authority is all you need to provide to be eligible for Legal Help level 2. You will be required to provide us a copy of this letter, sign the Legal Help level 2 form and then funding will be in place for a member of our Care Department to attend the Pre-Proceedings meeting with you as well as any Child Protection Conferences that take place alongside the period of Pre-Proceedings. You will receive legal advice regarding the Local Authority’s concerns, representation at the meeting and a summary of the Pre-Proceedings meeting, a Review Pre-Proceedings meeting and the Child Protection Conferences. Please click here for more information relating to Pre-Proceedings.

Please note, if you have a spouse or partner who does not have parental responsibility for the children then they will not qualify for the Legal Help level 2 and may be required to pay for advice and assistance if necessary.

If the Local Authority issue Care Proceedings in relation to your children then you will be entitled to Full Legal Representation which covers all aspects of the Court proceedings and you will be represented in Court by one of our specialist Care solicitors. Any parent is entitled to public funding to cover the cost of a solicitor or barrister representing them in connection with care proceedings. If you are not the parent of the children and you are involved in the case then you can still apply for public funding but it will be subject to a means and merits test and your application will need to be considered by the Legal Aid Agency. Our solicitors will help you understand what the Court papers says, what will happen in Court and what decision the Court can make.

At Johnson Astills Solicitors we can offer advice, assistance and representation at all stages of the Local Authority involvement. Should you require our assistance then please visit our website, email us at careteam@johnsonastills.com or call us at either our Leicester Office on 0116 255 4855 or our Loughborough Office on 01509 610312 and ask for a member of our Care Team.