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What is legal aid?

Legal aid helps members of the public pay for legal advice, family mediation or representation in court or a tribunal. Legal aid might not cover all the costs of your case. You may have to pay some of the costs upfront or pay back some of the cost if you win money or property from your case.

The Legal Aid scheme is run by the Legal Aid Agency. Those who are eligible for it can also use a free and confidential advice service called Civil Legal Advice. You can find out more about the service via their website, www.gov.uk/civil-legal-advice.

Can I get legal aid in a personal injury claim?

Since 2000, it hasn’t been possible to get legal aid for personal injury claims. However, before abolishing it, the government brought in the idea of ‘no win no fee’, formally known as conditional fee agreements.

With no win no fee, anyone can make a personal injury claim regardless of their income – quite simply, you don’t have to pay anything upfront, and you’ll only need to pay your solicitors fee if your case is successful. No win no fee means there’s very little financial risk to making an injury claim, so it’s certainly a worthy replacement for legal aid.

What’s the difference between legal aid and no win no fee?

Legal aid is publicly funded and is only available if your case meets strict criteria. For personal injury claims, legal aid is no longer available at all.

For people who are unable to receive legal aid, no win no fee agreements between you and your legal advisor are used instead.

There are two types of no win no fee agreement –

  • Conditional Fee Agreements (CFAs)
  • Damages-Based Agreements (DBAs)

Both work in similar ways and either option means your solicitor only gets paid if you win your case. If you lose the case, your solicitor will not get paid.

Who is entitled to legal aid?

To be entitled to legal aid you need to be able to show that your case is eligible, that the problem is serious, and that you can’t afford to pay for legal costs (although your financial situation is not taken into account for cases regarding mental health, children in care, for example).

You might be able to receive legal aid if:

  • You or your family are at risk of abuse or serious harm, such as domestic violence or forced marriage
  • You’re at risk of homelessness or losing your home
  • You’ve been accused of a crime, face prison or detention
  • You’re being discriminated against
  • You need family mediation
  • You’re bringing a case under the Human Rights Act 1998

However, legal aid would not be available for the following:

  • Claims relating to death or personal injury, or under the Vaccine Damage Payments Act 1979
  • Most neighbour and boundary disputes (unless they involve an eligible housing matter)
  • Defamation or malicious falsehood
  • Conveyancing
  • Drawing up wills
  • Matters of trust law, (unless these are involved with family proceedings)
  • Negligence claims
  • Assault, battery and false imprisonment claims
  • Trespass to goods or land claims
  • Property damage claims
  • Claims relating to breach of statutory duty
  • Claims against a public authority involving Human Rights Act 1998 breaches
  • Claims arising from company or partnership matters
  • Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme claims
  • The cost of officially changing your name

How does a conditional fee agreement (no win no fee) work?

If you enter into a conditional fee agreement (CFA), you’ll receive 100% of the compensation awarded to you if your case is successful, but your solicitor can then claim his or her costs, as well as a pre-arranged ‘success fee’.

The losing party will usually be ordered to pay your solicitor’s costs but the success fee comes out of the compensation you have been awarded. Most solicitors still charge a 25% success fee which is the maximum percentage fee allowed by the Ministry of Justice since the law changed in April 2013.

Given that you’ll have to pay this success fee out of your compensation if you win your case, it is important that you agree how much this fee will amount to before you enter into the agreement and launch your case. These agreements are legally binding so once they are signed, you’ll have to pay the agreed success fee if you win your case.

Under a CFA, if you lose your claim you won’t need to pay your solicitor’s fee. There are some circumstances where you might need to pay your opponent’s costs, but to avoid any financial risk, your solicitor can help you take out an insurance policy known as After The Event (ATE) insurance.

The other type of no win no fee arrangement is a Damages-Based Agreement (DBA) or a “contingency fee arrangement” as they’re also known. If you enter into a DBA and you win your case, your solicitor will be paid by deducting a set percentage of the compensation you get awarded.

Other Important Information

*No Win No Fee

  • Although all our cases are handled on a no win no fee basis, other costs could be payable upon solicitors request. These will be fully explained to you before you proceed. Most customers will pay 25% (including VAT) of the compensation they are awarded to their law firm, although this may vary based on individual circumstances. Your solicitor may arrange for insurance to be in place for you to make sure your claim is risk free. Termination fees based on time spent may apply, or in situations such as: lack of cooperation or deliberately misleading our solicitors, or failing to go to any medical or expert examination, or court hearing.
  • *Criminal Injury Claims

  • If you want to make a claim for a criminal injury, you are not required to use the services of a claims management company to pursue the claim. You can submit your claim for free on your own behalf, directly to the Criminal Injury Compensation Authority (England, Wales, and Scotland) or the Criminal Injury Compensation Scheme (Northern Ireland).
About the Author

Nicola Laver LLB

Nicola is a dual qualified journalist and non-practising solicitor. She is a legal journalist, editor and author with more than 20 years' experience writing about the law.

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If you win your case, your solicitor's success fee will be taken from the compensation you are awarded - up to a maximum of 25%. Your solicitor will discuss any fees before starting your case.