Legal aid for housing problems

Civil legal aid pays for legal advice and representation from a solicitor or legal adviser for some housing and debt problems.

This content applies to England & Wales

What is civil legal aid

Civil legal aid pays for legal advice for people who cannot afford to pay for a solicitor to represent them. If an application for legal aid is successful, it can pay for some or all of their legal costs.

Legal aid solicitors and advisers can deal with housing and housing debt cases including:

  • possession proceedings brought by a landlord or mortgage lender

  • loss of the home due to bankruptcy or enforcement of a debt

  • challenges to local authority decisions about homelessness applications

  • unlawful discrimination and breaches of a person's human rights

  • judicial reviews of public authority decisions

People can be referred to a law firm or advice agency with a legal aid contract, or to the Civil Legal Advice helpline.

The solicitor or legal aid adviser checks that the case is in scope for legal aid. If it is in scope their client has to show that they qualify under the capital and income limits, and that their case meets the merits test. The solicitor then applies for legal aid on their client's behalf to fund their work on the case.

Types of civil legal aid

Different levels of legal aid services are available. What type the solicitor applies for depends on how complex the case is, and what stage the case is it. Solicitors normally apply for Legal Representation for clients who need to start or defend court proceedings.

A solicitor or legal adviser normally applies for Legal Help before they apply for Legal Representation. 

Legal Help and Help at Court

Legal Help pays for advice from a solicitor or legal adviser. They can negotiate on their client’s behalf, gather evidence, and write letters. Help at Court means a solicitor or adviser can represent their client at a court hearing.  

The solicitor can apply for Help at Court if their client: 

Legal Help and Help at Court do not provide the client with any protection if the court orders them to pay the costs of the other party.

Legal Representation

The solicitor can apply for legal representation if their client needs to bring or defend court proceedings, and the case needs more work than they can provide under Legal Help and Help at Court. The solicitor must apply to the Legal Aid Agency for a certificate of funding.  

In emergency cases, the solicitor can grant the funding to their client. 

Legal Representation provides the client with protection if the court orders them to pay the costs of the other party.

Housing Possession Court Duty Schemes

Advice and representation through the court duty scheme is paid for by the Legal Aid Agency. It is available to all defendants. There are no means or merits tests. The solicitor or adviser can apply for legal aid if the case needs more work after the initial court hearing.

Early Legal Advice Pilot

The Early Legal Advice Pilot runs from 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2024 and is available to individuals living or habitually resident in the area of Manchester City Council or Middlesbrough Council who are selected to take part.

The pilot provides for certain housing, debt, and welfare benefits issues to be in scope for legal aid. Clients can receive up to three hours of advice and assistance, but not representation. There are no means or merits tests.[1]

Legal problems covered by legal aid

Housing problems can overlap with other areas of legal advice, like debt, family, discrimination, community care, and public law. A housing solicitor may be able to deal with the other areas of law, or they could refer the case to someone who can.

The Gov.uk legal aid checker has information about which problems are in scope for legal aid.

Legal aid for housing problems

A person can apply for legal aid to help with certain housing problems including:

  • challenging homelessness decisions by the local authority

  • possession proceedings and eviction by their landlord

  • serious problems with the condition of their rented property

  • harassment and illegal eviction

  • loss of accommodation for asylum seekers

Legal aid for debt problems

A person can apply for legal aid for debt problems that put their home at risk. This includes:

  • possession proceedings and eviction by their mortgage lender

  • enforcement of a court judgment by an order for sale of their home

  • challenging a creditor's bankruptcy application if they own their home

Domestic abuse

Cases involving domestic abuse are normally referred to a family solicitor. This could include getting an injunction to remove the perpetrator from the home. A housing solicitor can help with a homelessness application or request to transfer to a new social tenancy.

Discrimination and human rights

Cases involving indirect and direct discrimination and breaches of a person's human rights by a landlord could be dealt with by a housing solicitor, or they could be referred to a discrimination or human rights specialist.

Community care

A solicitor who specialises in community care can deal with cases involving services and accommodation for people with care needs. This includes housing adaptations, local authority provision of residential accommodation, and decisions about care home accommodation.

Capital and income limits for legal aid

To qualify for civil legal aid, the client's capital and income must not exceed set financial limits. They must submit evidence of their financial situation for their solicitor to check. The solicitor cannot apply for legal aid without evidence of the client's income and expenses.

If the client passes the capital limits test, the solicitor assesses their monthly income to confirm that they qualify for legal aid.

Capital limits

The client's capital could include:[2]

  • money in the bank or valuable items

  • the value of their home, if they own it

  • a second property they own

The client passes the capital limit assessment if they have less than £8,000 in disposable capital.[3] The first £100,000 of the subject matter of the dispute is disregarded.[4] This is important in mortgage possession cases, where the applicant's home is the subject matter of the dispute.

Only the equity in the client's property is assessed. The Legal Aid Agency ignores the amount that is secured by the mortgage.[5]

Payments from certain trust funds and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority are disregarded.[6]

Income limits

People who are in receipt of certain 'passporting' means-tested benefits, including universal credit, do not have to have their income assessed. They automatically qualify for legal aid as long as they pass the capital test.

The maximum amount of a client's gross income is £2,657 per month. For clients with more than 4 children, the maximum amount is increased by £222 for the 5th and subsequent children. If the client's gross income exceeds that amount, they do not qualify for legal aid.

Clients whose gross income does not exceed the maximum amount must have their disposable income assessed. Their basic living expenses and allowances are deducted from their gross income.

Deductions are made for:

  • tax and national insurance

  • child care costs

  • housing costs

  • child maintenance

  • set allowances for a partner and children

  • fixed work costs

Their disposable income must not exceed £733 per month.

The Legal Aid Agency has more information about means testing and how to work out who qualifies for civil legal aid.

Gov.uk has a legal aid calculator.

How the merits of the case are assessed

The solicitor considers the merits of the case before making an application to the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) on behalf of their client. Even if a case is in scope and the applicant is below the capital and income limits, the case must meet the merits test to be covered by legal aid.[7]

The solicitor must be satisfied that the case:

  • has a good prospect of success

  • is in the public interest

  • would be funded by a reasonable private paying individual

The LAA guidance Work out who qualifies for civil legal aid contains more information about assessing the merits of a case.

Contact a legal aid solicitor

A person in need of legal advice can find a legal aid solicitor locally or online, or contact the Civil Legal Advice (CLA) helpline online or by telephone. CLA has a legal aid contract and can refer the applicant to a legal aid adviser.

The person should have details and evidence of their assets, income, and regular expenses ready when they first speak to their solicitor.

The solicitor will ask to see evidence of the client's

  • recent payslips

  • bank statements

  • savings and investments

  • benefit income

  • mortgage statements

  • property value

It helps the solicitor if the client has any letters or documents that explain more about the background of the legal problem. These could be letters from the other party in the legal action, documents prepared on their behalf by an advice agency, or claims and orders issued by the court.

Paying for legal aid

The Legal Aid Agency can ask the client to pay some of the costs of their legal aid. This could be a monthly or lump sum contribution based on their capital and disposable income.

Statutory charge for successful cases

The statutory charge is imposed on people who keep or gain money or property as a result of legal representation paid for by legal aid. The statutory charge is deducted from any money the client receives, for example, the compensation they receive in a disrepair claim.[8]

Clients who keep a home that they own as a result of legal representation can have a charge registered against the property instead of paying the statutory charge upfront. This means the statutory charge will be paid when the property is sold, or the owner dies.

Legal Aid Agency withdraws legal aid

The Legal Aid Agency can withdraw legal aid if the client:

  • was wrongly granted legal aid

  • does not provide all the information required

  • no longer qualifies because of a change of circumstances, for example an increase in income

  • is unreasonable in their conduct of the case

  • does not keep up with the payment of agreed contributions

  • goes bankrupt

  • has died

Legal aid can be withdrawn if the case no longer meets the merits tests, for example because new evidence has come to light that means their chance of success in the case is reduced.

Civil legal aid can be stopped by discharge or by revocation.

Discharge of legal aid

The funding stops from the point when the Legal Aid Agency sends the client a notice to tell them this is going to happen.

Revocation of legal aid

The legal aid funding is cancelled if the Legal Aid Agency discovers that the client was wrongly granted legal aid.

This can happen if the client gave false information about their finances. If this happens they could have to repay all the money spent on their case.

Last updated: 11 April 2022

Footnotes

  • [1]

    Early Legal Advice Pilot Scheme Order 2022 SI 2022/397.

  • [2]

    reg 30 Civil Legal Aid (Financial Resources and Payment for Services) Regulations 2013 SI 2013/480.

  • [3]

    reg 8 Civil Legal Aid (Financial Resources and Payment for Services) Regulations 2013 SI 2013/480.

  • [4]

    reg 38 Civil Legal Aid (Financial Resources and Payment for Services) Regulations 2013 SI 2013/480.

  • [5]

    reg 37 Civil Legal Aid (Financial Resources and Payment for Services) Regulations 2013 SI 2013/480 as amended by reg 2(4) Civil Legal Aid (Financial Resources and Payment for Services) (Amendment) Regulations 2020.

  • [6]

    reg 40 Civil Legal Aid (Financial Resources and Payment for Services) Regulations 2013 SI 2013/480 as amended by reg 6 Civil Legal Aid (Financial Resources and Payment for Services) (Amendment) Regulations 2020.

  • [7]

    s.11 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.

  • [8]

    s.25 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.