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Legal Aid

From 2 October 2006, defendants who will have their cases heard in the magistrates' courts must pass both the means test and the Interests of Justice test to be eligible for legal aid. Defendants whose case is sent or committed to the Crown Court will receive legal aid but may have to pay a contribution towards their costs. For more details on this click here.

The means test will establish whether an applicant is financially eligible for legal aid. It considers income and expenses. Capital is not included. 

Her Majesty's Courts Service (HMCS) staff on behalf of the Legal Aid Agency will apply both tests. They will process the applicant's means information using an IT system similar to our online eligibility calculator.

Automatic qualification

Some applicants will automatically qualify financially for criminal legal aid. These include those who: 

  • receive Income Support, income-based Job Seeker's Allowance or a guaranteed state pension credit or Income-related employment and support allowance
  • are under the age of 16
  • are under 18 and in full-time education.

Applying the simple means test

Some applicants will automatically qualify financially for criminal legal aid.

For those who don't, the court will apply a simple means test:

gross annual income (divided by) weighting (equals) adjusted income

The weighting considers whether the applicant has a partner or children.

If an applicant's income is:

  • under £12,475, they qualify
  • over £22,325, they don't qualify
  • between £12,475 and £22,325, the full means test will be applied.

Applying the full means test

The full test is applied if an applicant:

  • does not automatically qualify
  • fails the simple means test.

The full means test works out an applicant's disposable income. This is done by deducting the following from the gross annual income:

  • tax and National Insurance
  • annual housing costs
  • annual childcare costs
  • annual maintenance to former partners and any children
  • an adjusted annual living allowance.

To qualify for criminal legal aid, an applicant's annual disposable income needs to be less than £3,398.

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