How to work out financial eligibility for legal aid: income and capital means testing, passporting and the civil legal aid calculator.
Means testing to assess financial eligibility is one aspect of determining if someone qualifies for civil legal aid. The means test is set out within Civil Legal Aid (Financial Resources and Payment for Services) Regulations 2013.
Before you complete the means test you should check if your client’s case is within scope as set out in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO).
The application process depends on the level of help that your application covers. The rules differ for controlled work and licensed work.
Controlled work and family mediation
You must assess a client’s income and capital for controlled work and family mediation including:
- legal help
- help at court
- family help (lower)
- family mediation
- legal representation for proceedings in the immigration and asylum tribunal of the first-tier tribunal or where transitional arrangements apply
The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) assesses a client’s income and capital for license work including:
- family help (higher)
- legal representation (other than controlled legal representation, see above)
- other legal services (exceptional cases)
If a client has an interest in assets that are in dispute, the value of the client’s assets exceeding £100k should be included in your financial eligibility check. See Regulation 38 in the 2013 Civil Legal Aid (Financial Resources and Payment for Services) Regulations.
Keep copies of the original documents that confirm your client’s financial circumstances.
To ensure you collect the correct evidence from the client you should refer to the appropriate form as follows:
Controlled work and family mediation
If you can’t find evidence of means for controlled work and family mediation cases, make sure your client is covered by one of the reasons in paragraph 3.24 of the standard civil contract 2013 specification.
- CIV MEANS 1 – initial assessment and further assessment
- CIV MEANS 2 – assessments for people who receive named benefits
- CIV MEANS 3 – assessments for people whose main home is outside the UK
- CIV MEANS 4 – for child clients under 16 with less than £2,500 capital and no regular income
- CIV MEANS 5 – to record an increase in capital
If a client receives certain benefits they’re passported through the income means test, so they automatically qualify within the income limits but you must still assess their capital.
Passporting benefits include:
- Income Support (IS)
- income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
- Universal Credit (UC)
- Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit (GC)
- income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
You must assess capital means in all cases. However, if your client receives financial support under sections 4 or 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 from the National Asylum Support Service (NASS), they’re passported through both income and capital tests for controlled work immigration and asylum matters only.
Gross income limit
Your client’s gross monthly income should be £2,657 or less. If they have more than 4 child dependants, add £222 to this figure for the fifth child and each further child.
Disposable income limit
This limit is set at £733 per month.
Disposable capital limit
This limit is set at £8,000 for all civil legal services except any relating to an immigration matter set out in regulation 8(3), which is capped at £3,000.
Clients do not make contributions for controlled work and family mediation cases. We’ll collect contributions for licensed work where disposable income exceeds £315 per calendar month and/or capital exceeds £3,000.
Domestic violence and forced marriage cases
The LAA waives all upper eligibility limits if your client is applying for legal aid for an order for protection from domestic violence or forced marriage. However, a contribution may be required.
Checking financial eligibility: step-by-step guidance
Check if your client has a partner whose income should be included in calculations - see regulation 16.
Check if your client receives any of the passporting benefits (see above). If they do, you only need to means test their disposable capital.
If your client doesn’t receive a passporting benefit you need to test that their gross income is £2,657 per month or less before you check their disposable income.
Test disposable income to make sure it is £733 or less.
If your client has passed the income means tests you should assess their disposable capital to make sure it’s no more than £8,000 - or £3,000 if their case is a controlled work immigration matter described in regulation 8(3): if your client passes this test they’ll be financially eligible.
Civil legal aid calculator
Calculate your client’s financial eligibility for civil legal aid, then print and complete the correct forms identified by the calculator. (You should use the online calculator instead of making manual calculations where possible.)