Criminal legal aid
Repayments of criminal legal aid
Will I have to pay anything towards my criminal legal costs?
A grant of criminal legal aid may be subject to the condition that the applicant has to repay some of the grant. The amount of the repayment is assessed according to a complicated formula set out in the Legal Services Act and the Legal Services Regulations. Generally, the factors which are relevant to the repayable amount are:
- the applicant’s income and capital
- whether they are single or not
- whether they have dependent children
- the cost of the legal services provided.
Applicants may also have to make interim repayments. The Legal Services Commissioner can require the applicant to start making interim repayments at any time after legal aid has been granted. If the applicant misses a repayment, the legal aid may be cancelled.
The commissioner may also require that the grant of criminal legal aid be subject to a charge over particular property, such as the applicant’s house or car. This means that if the applicant sells the property, the commissioner will recover money from the sale. The applicant will also have to repay the costs of registering the charge over their property.
The legal aid is paid to the lawyer directly, and the lawyer is not entitled to take payments from the applicant for any work that is covered by legal aid.
Note: The Legal Services Commissioner must tell the applicant whether they have to repay any of the legal aid at the same time as telling them whether legal aid has been granted.
What can I do if I think the amount I have to repay is unreasonable?
If the applicant believes that the required repayment is unreasonable, they can ask the Legal Services Commissioner to reconsider the decision. If that doesn’t change the decision, they can then apply to the Legal Aid Tribunal for a review of the decision. See below for further information.
Applicants can also ask the Legal Services Commissioner to write off or not enforce some or all of any amount they have been required to pay or to release a charge on their property. The commissioner may do this in the following circumstances:
- if the enforcement of the debt would, in the commissioner’s opinion, cause serious hardship to the aided person
- if the cost to the commissioner of enforcing the debt is likely to exceed the amount of the debt that is likely to be repaid
- if the commissioner considers that it would be fair to write off the debt.
Note: More than 10,000 people were granted a legal aid debt write-off in 2014.