It will be no April Fool’s joke but on 1st April separating and divorcing couples will lose the right to claim legal aid, warns Warrington-based FDR Law (FDR).
This leaves less than two months for anyone on a low income to seek professional subsidised advice and representation on family law issues such as divorce, child contact, maintenance and financial issues.
After 1st April, only people who have suffered proven domestic violence or forced marriage will be able to apply for legal aid. Everyone else will have to fund their own legal work or represent themselves in court.
Audrey Venables, the firm’s head of family law, believes the Government’s decision is going to have dire consequences for many vulnerable people and low income families.
She said: “Since the previous Government first proposed this cut in 2009, the legal profession has been campaigning against the decision. We are very concerned it will leave the most vulnerable people in our society without the ability to access legal advice and representation.
“For example, a mother and father who cannot agree on the arrangements for their children will now have to represent themselves in court if they cannot afford a lawyer. As well as those on benefits, stay-at-home parents will also be disadvantaged because they may be forced to represent themselves against their more affluent partner who is able to hire a professional advocate.
“These cuts will cause huge inequalities and an imbalance of power for parents who have chosen to stay at home with their children. People will be tempted to cut corners and not get professional advice, potentially signing up to damaging arrangements which could badly affect them the rest of their lives.
“The loss of legal aid is also bound to have an adverse effect on court waiting times, as cases will inevitably take longer to be heard. The change is going to impact on everyone, not just those who lose the right to free representation,” she added.
To ease the pain for those who will lose access to free help, FDR Law have come up with a package of easy payment measures which will help spread the load. This includes a fixed fee menu of prices or a pay-as-you-go system, enabling clients to select help when they need it most.
Anyone who may be eligible to continue to seek legal aid due to domestic violence is encouraged to seek help from the police or their GP.
For more information or to make an appointment, please contact Lesley Butler on 01925 230000