“My six-year-old son has been diagnosed with autism but, despite having special educational needs, my local authority is refusing to accept our medical evidence and to provide the support he needs. I want to appeal against the council’s decision but don’t think I can afford to pay for legal advice. However I understand that since April 2013 changes to legal aid mean I might not get financial support – what can I do?”
Civil legal aid helps to pay for the costs of getting legal advice if you’re on a low income. However, the Government has made large cuts to the civil legal aid budget and, since April, civil legal aid is no longer available for many types of problems including divorce, as well as particular debt, housing and welfare benefit issues.
It is still available if there is a risk of domestic violence or child abuse; if your home is at risk, or in some other cases.
Fortunately, if you meet the financial conditions, legal aid is still available for people appealing against special educational needs (SEN) assessments decisions by councils. In some cases, legal aid is free. In other cases, you may have to pay towards the cost.
Unless you are on certain benefits, your income will have to be assessed to decide if you qualify for legal aid. Although legal aid has been cut it is still available in certain circumstances. If you have a legal problem it is worth finding out if you qualify.
Whether or not you are eligible, there are organisations you can contact for free advice about SEN appeals.
If you need to apply for legal aid for a SEN problem, you must apply through the telephone gateway service run by civil legal advice on 0845 345 4345, open 9am to 8pm Monday to Friday, and 9am to 12.30pm on Saturday. Calls cost no more than 4p a minute from a BT landline. Calls from mobiles are usually more.
You can ask an adviser to call you back by texting ‘legalaid’ and your name to 80010. An adviser will call you back within 24 hours.
The helpline has a translation service. There is also a minicom service for people who are deaf, hard-of-hearing or speech-impaired, and a type-talk service for people with hearing difficulties.
You can also get advice online at www.gov.uk