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/ 09 Apr 2020

Finding a Legal Aid Child Care Solicitor During Covid-19

The recent coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown has forced many solicitors’ offices across the UK to close their doors at this time. The pandemic is a worrying time for us all, but if you are a parent who is facing intervention in your family from the Local Authority it can feel even more daunting to think you have to deal with this alone and without legal support. However, rest assured that although many offices have closed due to the crisis, it is still possible to instruct a Hanne & Co Child Care solicitor at this time.

Although it will no longer be possible to drop into your local law firm, many solicitors will be working remotely and here at Hanne & Co our Child Care Law Team remains available to take your call to see if we can help.  In usual circumstances we would invite you to attend our offices to meet with a Child Care solicitor and discuss your case and assess whether you are eligible for legal aid funding, however, we are now offering advice services by phone, Skype and email.

One of the first things your Child Care solicitor will need to do is check your eligibility for legal aid. If the Local Authority has issued care proceedings or given you a notice of intention to issue proceedings and you are a parent, you will be eligible for non-means and non-merits tested legal aid. This means we will not need to see evidence of your financial circumstances and we should be able to obtain a copy of the documents that the local authority has given you from the local authority directly by email.

If you are a parent seeking advice, for example about a child protection plan, or a family member who wishes to get involved in court proceedings relating to a child, legal help may be available to you. However, your Child Care solicitor will need to assess your financial means and the merits of your case.

Financial Evidence

The evidence that the Legal aid Agency requires us to obtain from you depends on your circumstances, but we must see evidence that is sufficient to calculate whether you are financially eligible for legal aid.

We will usually ask you to provide a minimum of 1 months’ worth of bank statements for every bank account you have (even if it is empty or overdrawn). The Legal Aid Agency has adapted their guidance in recognition that you will not be able to pop to the bank to get these, or post us hard copies and therefore we can accept photographs of paper statements, or if you have online banking, we can accept downloaded (or screen shot) statements by email. You may need to call your bank to request statements if you do not have online banking.

We will also need proof of your income. If you are working this will mean the last 3 month’s payslips – again photographs are acceptable in these circumstances. If you are receiving universal credit you will need to download or screenshot your online Universal Credit statement which clearly shows your entitlement. If you are receiving benefits such as Employment Support Allowance then we would need a photograph of the letter from the DWP confirming your entitlement dated within the last 6 months and the bank statements that demonstrate you are still in receipt of that benefit.

Your Child Care solicitor will discuss with you the exact evidence that we will require, dependent upon your circumstances.

We recognise there may be circumstances when it may not be possible for you to send the above evidence to us urgently, either because you do not have the paperwork at home, or because you do not own a smart phone or device to send it by email. We can discuss this with you and it may be possible for us to make alternative arrangements.

Signing Legal Aid Forms

The Legal Aid Agency’s usual rules require us to see you in person to obtain a ‘wet’ signature on legal aid forms. However, the rules have recently been adapted, allowing us to accept digital signatures. If you have a printer, we will ask you to print and sign the completed forms we send you and email a photo or scan of the signature page back to us. If you do not have a printer you may be able to sign the form on your smart phone device, using the ‘markup’ function on your iPhone or apps such as PDFelement, Adobe Fill & Sign or DocuSign on your android device. If you do not have a smart phone or any other way of signing the form, we may be able to accept written confirmation from you that you would like to sign the form by way of an email exchange with your solicitor. In these circumstances we will discuss with you exactly what you will need to write.

Urgent Advice Required

In some cases we can proceed with a small amount of very urgent work on your behalf without seeing all of the evidence immediately – if we can be satisfied that you are likely to be eligible for legal aid. But we will need you to provide evidence as soon as you are able to do so.

If you do not have access to email and cannot provide the legal aid evidence mentioned above, it may still be possible to access legal aid. Please give the Child Care Law Team at Hanne & Co a call on 0207 288 0017 and we will discuss this with you further by phone.

Finding a Legal Aid Child Care Solicitor during Covid-19 - Hanne & Co's Helen Mead explains

Helen Mead is a Trainee Solicitor in Hanne & Co’s Child Care Law Department

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