DIY justice?

Following the cuts to legal aid two years ago, increasing numbers of people find themselves without legal advice or representation when they are faced with a legal problem.

In April 2013 help for legal advice and representation at court was cut drastically. This means that help is significantly reduced, or no longer available at all for many problems that people face on a daily basis, such as: child contact issues, welfare benefit first tier appeals, employment rights, many debt and housing problems, advice on making a will, and most immigration advice.

The BBC looked at this in a recent documentary, ‘DIY Justice’.

What are your options if you have a legal problem and need advice or representation but can’t afford to pay for it?

1. Check what legal aid is available. Have a look on trusted advice websites to see what areas you can still get legal aid for. This list from Citizens Advice summarises the areas where you can still get legal aid.

2. Can free advice solve your problem? There are still many places that offer free advice for your issue – it may be a local face-to-face advice centre or a national helpline – often with online help or a callback facility. Have a look in our Advice Directory, first under the category you want and then filter for Advice to get local help, and Self-help for national helpines and other resources. Clicking on ‘Benefits’ and then ticking ‘Advice’ and clicking ‘Filter’ will take you to local advice organisations for benefit advice. Clicking on ‘Debt’ and then ticking ‘Self-help’ and clicking ‘Filter’ will take you took national debt advice helplines and websites.

3. Go it alone? Use a trusted website of an advice organisation or charity to find out your rights and responsibilities in a situation. Remember – an independent website from a trusted charity or organisation is more likely to be relevant, accurate and up-to-date than an unofficial site or a commercial site trying to sell you something. For example, last month we featured an employment advice organisation  – ACAS – whose website is full of information on how to understand your rights at work.

AdviceNow have put together a guide for how to resolve a legal problem if you do have to go it alone. They suggest:

  • working out your problem
  • knowing what your rights and responsibilites are
  • understanding your options
  • knowing who to speak to
  • communcating effectively
  • getting organised and
  • knowing where to get help.

Have a read of their guide – Advice Now Seven Steps to solving a legal problem.