Domestic abuse victims should not be denied Legal Aid because of capital 'trapped' in the family home
- AuthorEmilie Haine
Emilie Haine, a solicitor at Family Law Group, Cambridge, explores the impact of the High Court’s recent decision that it was unfair to deny a mother Legal Aid due to the value of the house she owns with her ex-partner. This case has provided important clarification for domestic abuse victims seeking legal assistance.
Although Legal Aid has been severely restricted in recent years, it is still available in family law matters for victims of domestic abuse. However, applicants must first pass a financial means test involving an assessment of income and capital; including any property that a person owns or has an interest in.
The mother in this case had just £28 in her bank account and was on universal credit. However, because she co-owned a house with an ex-partner valued at £650,000, she was assessed as ineligible. At Family Law Group we hear from many victims in similar positions, who have little or no income except benefits and may even be relying on food banks, but are denied Legal Aid because of the market value of the family home they share with their abuser.
In some cases, this is a home they have had to flee from due to the abuse. Until now, the Legal Aid Agency ‘LAA’ has had no discretion to ignore the value of such properties and many women have been left unable to afford legal advice and having to confront the perpetrator in court without any help.
In this case, the mother argued that the ‘trapped capital’ in the house should have been valued at nil, because she could not sell or borrow against it. The court agreed that this was unfair and that the LAA should exercise discretion over whether legal aid should be granted where the applicant only has ‘trapped capital.’
We await further guidance from the LAA as to how exactly this will be implemented, but we hope this will allow firms like Family Law Group to assist more victims of domestic abuse.
Family Law Group can advise you on your particular set of circumstances and assess you for Legal Aid eligibility.