How much will the Scottish Legal Aid Board pay?
Even if you are entitled to help from the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB), you may still have to pay something towards your legal costs. This page explains more.
Who decides how much SLAB will pay?
The Scottish Parliament sets limits on how much your solicitor can spend on giving you advice and assistance before asking SLAB. There are different limits for civil and criminal cases. If you're getting legal advice on a housing problem, it's likely to be a civil case.
Civil legal aid has to be approved in advance by SLAB. The rest of this page explains this in more detail. To find out more about advice and assistance and civil legal aid, read our page on what does legal aid cover?
The financial limits on eligibility for civil legal aid were increased substantially on 7 April 2009 so it's worth checking whether these changes affect you 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 you were told 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 you'll have to pay a contribution towards any legal aid you're awarded and you're worried you can't afford it
you think that legal aid won't apply to your case (for example, if your case is about mortgage rights).
How much will SLAB pay for advice and assistance?
Your solicitor can normally spend either £95 or £180 on advice and assistance in a civil case without asking SLAB for approval. It depends on what the case is about and how much work they have to do.
If your solicitor needs more money than this to give you further advice and assistance, they have to get SLAB to approve an amount before doing any more work on your behalf.
How much will SLAB pay for civil legal aid?
Solicitors are entitled to be paid for the work they do and the legal advice they give. However, they have to do this work efficiently and cost effectively and they can't charge for work they haven't done. They have to get SLAB to grant legal aid for your case before they do any work on your behalf under civil legal aid. They also have to ask for approval from SLAB before they can do some kinds of work, for example, if they need to employ an advocate or get a report from an expert.
It's important to realise that every time you speak to a solicitor or they write to you or give you advice, the cost of your case goes up. Our page called solicitors' fees and charges explains how solicitors work out their fees. You can ask your solicitor how much your case is costing at any time.
Will I have to pay a contribution?
Even if you are entitled to receive some money under the civil legal assistance scheme, you may have to pay a contribution towards your legal costs. This will depend on:
how much your earn, and
how much your assets (if you have any) are worth.
There is also an online civil legal aid calculator that you can use, as well as details of a telephone helpline which you can call if you'd prefer to speak to someone in person. These tools can help you to work out:
whether you may be entitled to help with your legal costs, and
whether or not you'll have to pay a contribution.
If you have to pay a contribution, SLAB will tell you exactly how much this will be. You can pay your contribution from income in instalments, although if you have to pay a contribution based on your assets you will have to pay that in a lump sum. SLAB will write to you telling you how much you have to pay, and in how many instalments, and your solicitor will be able to tell you more. If you are at all worried that you can't afford to pay your contribution, don't panic. Get in touch with your solicitor or SLAB as soon as possible and it may be possible to reach an agreement to pay by installments which are affordable to you.
What happens if I win my case?
If you've been successful in your case and you win or keep some money or property as a result of it, you may have to pay some or all of the costs of your case back to SLAB although there are some exceptions. This is called 'clawback'. The rules for clawback are complicated and your solicitor will explain more if this applies to you.
To cover the cost of the case, SLAB will use
first, any costs your opponent pays
second, any contribution you have to pay
third, if these two are not enough, part or all of any money or property you won or kept as a result of the case
fourth, if these three are not enough, SLAB will pay.
What happens if I lose my case?
If you lose your case, you may have to pay your opponent's legal fees and costs and SLAB won't pay for this even if you have received civil legal aid. However, you (or your solicitor) can ask the court to limit the amount you have to contribute.
Where can I find out more?
Whether you get advice and assistance and/or legal aid depends very much on your individual circumstances and the facts of your case. This page outlines some of the main points but you really need to get specific advice from your solicitor to find out what applies in your case.
Remember, the financial limits for eligibility for civil legal aid changed substantially on 7 April 2009 so it's worth checking this out to see if it affects you.
SLAB have produced several very useful leaflets and guides on this topic (including new information on the changes to the new financial eligibility limits) and you can download them by visiting their website or phoning them directly.
Last updated: 12 January 2018