Domestic abuse victims blocked from getting legal aid will no longer be pushed into selling their homes in a bid to obtain justice and secure safet
Domestic abuse victims blocked from getting legal aid will no longer be pushed into selling their homes in a bid to obtain justice and secure safety from their violent partners.
The legal aid victory, which comes into force on Thursday, eradicates the cap on mortgage allowance previously used when determining the eligibility of an individual seeking legal aid.
Campaigners, who celebrated the move, said unfair rules around legal aid force women who cannot afford legal representation to face their abusive former partners alone in court.
The new legislation has been introduced in the wake of a High Court ruling in December 2020 which stopped a legal loophole that blocked a domestic abuse survivor who was a single mother from obtaining legal aid despite her only having £28 in her bank account.
Olive Craig, senior legal officer at Rights of Women, a leading women’s legal rights charity, said: “We frequently speak to women experiencing domestic abuse.
“Some who have had to resort to food banks to feed their children, who have been denied access to legal aid by a system deliberately designed to make it harder for applicants to be granted legal aid. A system which ignores the lived realities of many women experiencing domestic abuse.
“You should not have to sell your home, and make yourself and your children homeless, to be eligible to access justice and safety. This vital legislation will help many more women access the legal support and protections they desperately need to live free from violence and abuse.”
The legal aid changes will come as a relief to domestic abuse victims due to the fact most are already struggling to make ends meet as they have suffered financial abuse from their partner.
Refuge found 1,780 women seeking help – more than a third of the total – had faced economic abuse from their partner. On average, the mistreatment, which includes being denied access to money or a bank account, as well as having debt placed in their name, lasted more than six years.
While cuts to legal aid, which help people pay for legal advice and representation in court, has led to lawyers who provide this service being deluged with cases and has triggered the emergence of so-called “legal aid deserts” in the UK – with women in rural areas most likely to struggle to find help.
Lucy Hadley, of Women’s Aid, a leading domestic abuse charity, told The Independent the organisation welcomed the “critical change” to legal aid which stems from “tireless campaigning” by survivors and campaigners.
She added: “We continue to hear from survivors who are denied access to legal aid because of the ‘capital’ in their homes, but who simply do not have enough money to pay for a lawyer.
“This can result in women either forced to sell their homes or face debt or poverty to pay for legal advice or left to face abusers in court with no representation at all. It is essential that the legal aid system supports all survivors who need it to access safety and justice, and this reform is a critical step forward in making that happen.”
Campaigners say the new legislation, which applies to all civil legal aid, means “imaginary capital” will now be seen as debt.
Lisa King, of Refuge, the UK’s largest provider of shelters for domestic abuse victims, told The Independent they support more than 7,000 women and children every single day and their frontline staff routinely report the obstacles and trauma victims grapple with in the family court system.
She added: “This vital ruling will make a real difference to the women Refuge supports, allowing survivors to access legal aid when previously their home ownership blocked them from doing so.”
Anyone who requires help or support can contact the National Domestic Abuse Helpline which is open 24/7 365 days per year on 0808 2000 247 or via their website https://www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/