Legal Aid changes welcomed

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A family lawyer based in Cornwall has welcomed changes to Legal Aid, which could benefit people in the south west who need to escape domestic abuse.

Shelley Workman of Coodes Solicitors says the removal of the ‘mortgage cap’ from Legal Aid means testing will enable more homeowners to access legal advice.

Legal Aid helps covers some of the costs of legal advice and representation in court or tribunal for those who cannot afford to pay for it themselves. Previously, a mortgage allowance was used as part of the Legal Aid means testing. Following a long campaign, the £100k mortgage cap has now been removed. The new rules mean all mortgage debt will be deducted so more individuals will pass the financial eligibility criteria.

Campaigners argue this change is long overdue as there have been many cases in which families living below the poverty line have been unable to access Legal Aid.

The change is expected to have the biggest impact on people living in rural communities, where there is a higher proportion of homeowners, but many are on lower incomes.

Based in St Austell, Shelley Workman is a chartered legal executive for Coodes Solicitors and has advised domestic abuse victims for 20 years. The south west law firm has a Legal Aid contract for Cornwall, as well as the Holsworthy area of North Devon.

She said: “This change in legislation will allow more victims of domestic abuse to access legal advice and representation. The change is a positive step forward for anyone who needs access to safety and legal support.

“There have been cases in which victims of domestic abuse have been refused Legal Aid due to the amount of capital in their homes. Some have had to resort to selling their house or taking out a bank loan in order to pay for legal help. The £100k mortgage cap has also forced some victims to face their abuser in court alone, without legal representation.

“Many victims also suffer financial abuse from their partner, meaning they have no access to bank accounts or mortgage documents. In the past, this has sometimes meant they have been unable to pass the eligibility criteria for Legal Aid.

“I welcome this change in legislation. The previous rules were unfair to homeowners on low incomes and those people with larger mortgages. More individuals who cannot afford the legal help they need will now be able to receive representation without getting into debt.

“Campaigners have already highlighted the fact that the change could have the biggest impact in rural communities, which include a high proportion of homeowners on low incomes. Here in the South West, the change is very welcome.”