12.1 Eligibility for legal aid
People with NRPF can apply for legal aid funding to help with legal costs. However, legal aid is only available for certain areas of legal advice. Eligibility for legal aid funding depends on a person’s financial circumstances and, for some matters, the merits of their case.
In England and Wales legal aid is available for the following types of asylum and immigration cases:
- Asylum applications
- Applying for indefinite leave to remain after relationship breakdown due to domestic violence or an EU citizen applying to stay after domestic violence
- Applying for leave to remain as a victim of trafficking
- Proceedings before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC)
- Applications for asylum support (when housing and financial support is applied for)
Advice and assistance with all other immigration matters, including applications made under the family life rules, or outside the rules on human rights grounds will not be covered by legal aid, unless a person can successfully apply for exceptional funding.
Legal aid is also available for other types of cases:
- Social services cases where children are involved
- Help or services from the local authority and/or the NHS because of illness, disability or mental capacity
- Representation at a mental health tribunal for people detained in hospital
- Welfare benefit appeals to the Upper Tribunal, High Court, Court of Appeal or Supreme Court
- Homelessness including asylum accommodation
- Judicial review challenges against decisions by public bodies, including local authorities
When legal aid is available for a person’s case, they will be subject to a means assessment and will only qualify if they have a low or no income. A person in receipt of local authority support would need to provide a letter outlining the financial assistance they are receiving.
Depending on the stage that the case is at, eligibility for legal aid funding may also be dependent on the case passing a merits test. The legal adviser will be required to make an assessment of the likelihood of the case succeeding and legal aid funding may be refused if the case has little prospect of success.
For more information see:
12.2 Exceptional case funding
If the case is not covered by legal aid then a person may apply for exceptional case funding. Exceptional funding is available to people whose human rights or European rights would be breached if they did not have legal aid.
A person must demonstrate that:
- legal aid is not ordinarily available for their case,
- their case is strong,
- they are financially eligible for legal aid,
- legal aid is necessary to prevent their human rights or European rights from being breached, and
- without legal aid it would be practically impossible to bring their case or the proceedings would be unfair.
To apply for exceptional funding, form CIV ECF1 must be completed and submitted with a merits and means form to the Legal Aid Agency’s Exceptional Funding Case Team. Legal advisers generally will not help people to complete this form. However, the Public Law Project may be able to help people to complete the exceptional funding form if they cannot get assistance from elsewhere.
For more information see:
12.3 How to find a legal aid adviser
To find a local legal aid provider see:
- England and Wales: UK Government website
- Scotland: Scottish Legal Aid Board
- Northern Ireland: Legal Services Agency Northern Ireland
12.4 How to find an immigration or asylum adviser
It is a criminal offence to provide immigration advice that is specific to a person’s matter unless the adviser is a member of the appropriate regulatory bodies for solicitors and barristers or an immigration adviser regulated by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC).
Therefore it is not appropriate for local authority practitioners to advise a person about the specifics of a person’s case, or to make a judgement on whether they have grounds for a specific type of application and the merits of such an application. Instead, they will need to signpost the person to a legal adviser. Due to the lack of legal aid funding for many immigration matters, and general availability of free advice, practitioners will need to make links with voluntary sector agencies providing such services in their area.
To find a local immigration adviser or solicitor who is properly regulated see:
- The OISC – for a regulated immigration or asylum adviser
- The Law Society – for a solicitor in England and Wales
- The Law Society of Scotland
- The Law Society of Northern Ireland
- UK government website – for immigration and asylum advisers in England and Wales with a legal aid contract
A person providing immigration and asylum advice under a legal aid contract will need to be accredited under the Law Society’s Immigration and Asylum Accreditation Scheme. Although solicitors and advisers providing fee paying services are not required to obtain this accreditation, it is advisable to select a person who has obtained this accreditation where possible.
12.5 Law centres and other free advice providers
Some areas will have a local law centre, which may receive funding from various sources, including the local authority, in order to provide advice on a range of matters to the local community. They therefore may have funding to provide free legal advice to families with NRPF, although demand is likely to be high for services. Often they will have immigration and asylum specialists.
Locally, there may be charities and voluntary sector organisations which provide legal advice. Also some private practices may offer drop-in surgeries to provide free one-off advice, so it is a good idea to establish what is available in the local authority area in order to signpost families.
To find a local law centre see: