Skip to main content

What does legal aid cover?

This page explains the different kinds of funding in the legal aid system and what kind of legal advice can be covered. The limits on financial eligibility for civil legal aid changed substantially on 7 April 2009 so it's worth checking to see if you're now eligible.

Is legal aid available for all kinds of legal advice?

Different kinds of funding are available depending on whether or not you need legal representation in court.

Funding through the legal aid system in Scotland is available to cover advice and representation on matters of Scots law in both civil and criminal cases. You can find out what the differences in the law are by reading our page on civil and criminal law. Most housing cases will be dealt with under civil law so this page will only talk about civil legal aid.

Can legal aid help with my housing problems?

Funding through the Scottish legal aid system may be available to help you to get legal advice and/or representation in relation to your housing problems as long as you pass the eligibility tests. The financial limits for eligibility changed substantially on 7 April 2009 so it's worth checking whether or not you're eligible even if:

  • you've applied for legal aid in the past but you weren't eligible
  • you've never applied for legal aid before but have been told in the past that you wouldn't be eligible
  • you think you won't be eligible because of your income or any savings you may have
  • you think that legal aid won't apply to your case (for example, if your case is about mortgage rights).

Examples of housing disputes that legal assistance might cover are:

What is civil legal assistance?

Civil legal assistance is available to help with costs in civil cases. Civil legal assistance is a term that refers to both:

  • advice and assistance, and
  • civil legal aid.

You can only get civil legal assistance through a solicitor.

What is advice and assistance?

Advice and assistance is usually the first kind of funding that you apply for when you go to see a solicitor for legal advice about a problem you're having. Advice and assistance may cover some, or all, of the costs of getting this advice. It's not the same as civil legal aid (see 'what is civil legal aid?' below). If you're eligible for advice and assistance, it doesn't necessarily mean that you'll be eligible for civil legal aid, or vice versa.

What does advice and assistance cover?

Advice and assistance can help to pay for legal advice on a variety of matters, including:

However, advice and assistance only covers the cost (or some of the cost) of any advice you receive from your solicitor. This could include:

  • telephone calls to arrange meetings, discuss your problem and give initial advice
  • meetings
  • letters your solicitor writes to you confirming their advice.

It may also cover any negotiations your solicitor undertakes with your opponent on your behalf to try and keep your case out of court.

Advice by way of representation (ABWOR)

Advice and assistance will not usually cover representation in court. However, there are a few circumstances where it may - for example, for an employment tribunal or asylum and immigration appeals. This is called 'assistance by way of representation' or ABWOR. ABWOR can only be given in special circumstances and you should ask your solicitor if this applies in your case.

Unless ABWOR is available, advice and assistance won't cover the costs of preparation and legal representation if your case is going to court. For this, you'll have to apply for civil legal aid (see below).

What is civil legal aid?

If your case is likely to go to court, civil legal aid can pay for you to be represented by a solicitor in your case. You'll have to apply for this separately from advice and assistance. Being eligible for advice and assistance doesn't necessarily mean you're eligible for civil legal aid, or vice versa. Your solicitor will be able to tell you more in relation to your specific circumstances.

What does civil legal aid cover?

If your case is going to court (or is likely to go to court), civil legal aid can help to pay for the costs involved with this, including:

  • all legal preparation work (including drafting legal documents) before your case actually calls in court
  • advice to you from your solicitor
  • gathering any evidence necessary for your case (this might include getting medical reports from your doctor)
  • getting your solicitor to represent you in court.

In some cases, civil legal aid will cover some (or all) of the costs of getting an Advocate or solicitor-advocate to represent you. You'll only need an Advocate or solicitor-advocate if your case gets very complicated or ends up in the Court of Session. Your solicitor will be able to give you more information on this and find an Advocate or solicitor-advocate for you if necessary. Meanwhile, have a look at our page on courts in Scotland to find out how the court system in Scotland works.

Will legal aid cover all my legal costs?

Not necessarily. You might have to pay a contribution towards your legal costs. If you have to pay a contribution, it will be applied on a sliding scale and will depend on your disposable income and any assets you have (known as 'capital'). Your solicitor will be able to explain how this works in more detail. They'll also go through your individual calculations with you.

If you do have to pay a contribution, but you're worried about how you'll manage to do this because of your other financial commitments or debts, don't suffer in silence. Likewise, if you're worried about paying for your contributions on top of your mortage or rental payments, don't panic. Speak to your solicitor or the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) to get advice and help. It may be possible to work out an arrangement so that you can pay your contributions in installments that you can afford. The sooner you ask for help and plan out your repayments, the better.

If you win your case and you get or keep some money or property, you may have to pay all or part of the cost of your legal aid from that property.

If you lose your case, you might also have to pay your opponent's legal costs as well. Speak to your solicitor or the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) for more detailed advice.

Do I qualify for legal aid?

That depends on a number of factors. The limits on financial eligibility for civil legal aid increased substantially on 7 April 2009 so it's worth checking whether or not you qualify for help even if:

  • you've applied for legal aid in the past but you weren't eligible
  • you've never applied for legal aid before but have been told in the past that you wouldn't be eligible
  • you think you won't be eligible because of your income or any savings you may have
  • you think that legal aid won't apply to your case (for example, if your case is about mortgage rights).

How do I apply for legal aid? 

You'll need to make separate applications for advice and assistance and civil legal aid. Read the page on applying for help if you'd like more information on how to apply for legal aid.

Does my legal aid cover my opponent's legal costs?

No. If you lose your case, the court may decide that you have to pay some (or all) of your opponent's legal costs. This could include things like:

  • all or part of their solicitors' fees
  • their travelling expenses
  • any wages they may have lost by coming to court.

However, if you are getting legal aid your solicitor may be able to apply to the court to reduce the amount you have to pay.

Scotland map Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.
This content applies to Scotland only.
Get advice if you're in England

If you're still looking for help, try searching, or find out how to contact us