PLP's Exceptional Funding Project
This page provides information about exceptional funding under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. The information on this page will help you work out whether you might be eligible for exceptional funding, tell you more about the system, and PLP’s work on it.
Use the quick links to find your way to the information you are looking for.
How can PLP help you?
Background: the changes to legal aid Back to top
On 1 April 2013, major changes were made to the legal aid system in England and Wales by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. As a result of these changes, many cases no longer ordinarily receive legal aid. Types of cases which continue to get legal aid include, for instance:
- Family cases where a local authority has applied to Court (for instance in care proceedings)
- Family cases (for a person who has suffered domestic violence, or where children are at risk of harm, and evidence is available to show this)
- Claims for Judicial Review (except in some immigration cases)
- Claims for asylum
These are only examples. Some of the rules about which cases get legal aid are complicated. There is a more detailed list of cases which receive legal aid below, but to check whether your case is one that would get legal aid, you should contact a local solicitor dealing with that area of law. You can look up legal aid providers by area of law through the 'find legal advice' pages on gov.uk.
If you have a case for which legal aid is not normally available, the only way that you will be able to get legal aid is if you are granted exceptional case funding.
What is exceptional funding? Back to top
Exceptional funding will only be available to people whose human rights or European Union rights would be breached if they did not have legal aid (section 10 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012). In general, this means that it would be in some way unfair or even impossible for a person to deal with a case themselves. That might be because the case is complicated, or because the person is less able to deal with it alone (for instance, they might suffer from a learning disability). It could also be because the case is so important to that person that it is not fair for that person to do the case themselves. A combination of these factors could also mean that funding is required to avoid a breach of that person’s rights.
Exceptional funding may also be available for inquests where the right to life under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights is engaged. The criteria for being granted funding in inquest cases are different. For more detail on funding for inquests see the Government’s guidance and information about inquest funding for legal aid providers: this is not something that the Public Law Project are able to advise on, as inquests do not fall within PLP’s Exceptional Funding Project. You may want to contact Inquest for advice and assistance.
How does the exceptional funding system work? Back to top
Solicitors are unable to grant exceptional funding themselves. This means that all applications for exceptional funding must be sent to the Exceptional Cases Team at the Legal Aid Agency using form CIV ECF1. Applications for exceptional funding should be accompanied by further relevant forms, which are the same forms you would use if applying for ordinary legal aid. Some information about the relevant forms and copies of them can be found on the Legal Aid Agency page on exceptional case funding. The application forms can be filled out by an applicant on their own, or by a legal representative. The Legal Aid Agency’s target time for responding to an initial application is 20 working days.
If an individual applies for exceptional funding without a legal representative, he or she should be provided with a decision on whether they will receive funding. This will only be possible where the Legal Aid Agency is provided with relevant information by the individual who is applying. The individual will then need to submit valid means form and any other relevant information through the solicitors' firm or organisation which will represent them in their case.
If an application for exceptional funding is unsuccessful, the applicant can apply for an internal review of the refusal by submitting grounds of review and supporting documentation to the Legal Aid Agency. If the refusal of funding is upheld on the internal review, the only way of bringing a further challenge is by judicial review.
There is some further information on applying for exceptional case funding in the Legal Aid Agency’s provider pack.
Are you eligible for exceptional funding? Back to top
In order to be eligible for exceptional funding, you will have to show four things:
Legal aid is not ordinarily available for your case
In order to be eligible for exceptional funding you need to check that legal aid is not ordinarily available in your case. Exceptional Case Funding is not available or necessary if legal aid is ordinarily available for your case. Legal aid is available for various areas of law,subject to financial eligibility These areas include:
Actions against public authorities
Mental health and mental capacity
Special educational needs
Debt where the person’s home is at risk. This includes mortgage possession of the home, orders for sale of the home and involuntary bankruptcy where the person’s estate includes their home.
Housing where the person’s home is at risk or the person is homeless. This includes possession of the home, eviction, disrepair in rented accommodation where the disrepair poses a serious risk to health or safety, homelessness assistance and anti-social behaviour cases.
Public family law regarding the protection of children.
Private family law where there is evidence of domestic violence or child abuse, child abduction cases, forced marriage protection cases and cases where a child is a party to the proceedings.
Clinical negligence where a child suffers a neurological injury resulting in them being severely disabled during pregnancy, child birth or the postnatal period
Immigration where there are issues of domestic violence, proceedings in the Special Immigration Appeals Commission or issues of human trafficking or slavery, servitude or forced labour.
Welfare benefits, where there is an appeal to the First-tier Tribunal where the tribunal reviews its own decision because there has been an error of law or an appeal to the Upper Tribunal, Court of Appeal or Supreme Court on a point of law.
If your case falls into one of these areas, you may be eligible for legal aid and you should seek legal advice from a solicitor specialising in that area. This is not a complete list and you should check with a legal aid solicitor whether legal aid could be available in your case. You can identify solicitors in your area by using the search function on the Law Society's 'find a solicitor' website and you can search for organisations which provide legal aid services through the gov.uk website.
Your case is strong Next criteria
In order to be eligible for legal aid you need to be able to show that you have good arguments in support of your case. The need for strong arguments differs depending on what sort of legal service you are seeking funding for. In order to receive legal advice and assistance from a solicitor you need to be able to show that it is reasonable for the government to provide you with legal aid and that the cost of providing you with legal advice and assistance is outweighed by the benefit you will gain from it. However, in order to get legal representation at a court or tribunal, you need to meet a higher threshold, generally that you are at least as likely to win your case as to lose it.
You are financially eligible for legal aid Next criteria
The Legal Aid Agency will only grant legal aid to people who do not have very much money. This means that you will have to provide information about your income, your savings and whether or not you own your home, have a mortgage and receive a pension, as well as whether or not you have dependent children. If you have a partner, you will also have to provide information about their financial position. This is why we ask for financial information on our referral form, which is available below. When considering whether or not you are eligible for legal aid, the Legal Aid Agency will look at your disposable income (the money you have left after paying basic living expenses) and your disposable capital (any savings, property, investments or valuable belongings that you could use or sell to pay for a lawyer).
For a more detailed assessment of whether you might be eligible for legal aid you can use the Ministry of Justice ‘eligibility calculator’, which is available here, although it should be noted that this is a fairly complex and time consuming tool.
When a person requires legal aid to prevent a breach of their human rights or European Union rights was set out by the Court of Appeal in the case of Gudanaviciene v Director of Legal Aid Casework  EWCA Civ 1840. The court stated that:
Whether funding is required is not about whether the case is unusual or whether there are many cases. It is about the circumstances in the case;
“the critical question is whether an unrepresented litigant is able to present his case effectively and without obvious unfairness”;
Funding can be required under:
- Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to a fair trial)
- Article 8 of the Convention (the right to a family life)
- Article 47 of the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights
The test for when funding is required is essentially the same, whether claimed under the European Convention or the EU Charter;
The main factors determining whether funding is required are “(a) the importance of the issues at stake; (b) the complexity of the procedural, legal and evidential issues; and (c) the ability of the individual to represent himself without legal assistance, having regard to his age and mental capacity.”
The Lord Chancellor has published guidance on when exceptional case funding will be available.
PLP’s work on Exceptional Funding Back to top
Ever since Exceptional Case Funding was introduced in April 2013, PLP has been working to increase access the scheme.
- PLP has helped many individuals to apply to the Legal Aid Agency for Exceptional Funding, and has been successful in obtaining funding for many of them (including at the beginning of the scheme, when funding was only granted in less than 10 per cent of cases)
- PLP represented I.S., a person suffering from significant disabilities alongside other individuals in the case of Gudanaviciene v Director of Legal Aid Casework, which made clear that the test for when funding was required was much lower than the Government had claimed.
- PLP continued to represent I.S. in a legal challenge to the operation of the scheme on the basis that it was so hard to get funding that the scheme was being used unlawfully. PLP's client won this case in the High Court (I.S. v Director of Legal Aid Casework  EWHC 1965 (Admin)), where the Legal Aid Agency was severely criticised and its practices found unlawful. The Court of Appeal agreed with many of those criticisms but did not find the scheme unlawful ( EWCA Civ 464)). An appeal is being made to the Supreme Court.
- PLP continues to offer training and support to organisations making exceptional funding applications. Training opportunities are listed on our events page.
- We are continuing to monitor experiences of the Exceptional Funding scheme and are keen to hear about your experiences, or if you are considering making a funding application. You can send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call our main number: 0207 843 1260.
How can PLP help you? back to top
Support for Legal Aid Providers and Organisations
If you are a legal aid provider or other organisation applying for funding on behalf of a client, and would like to discuss whether exceptional funding is suitable, or have questions about the process, likely outcomes or possible approaches, please contact us and we will do our best to provide support as quickly as we can. We have unique experience of the Exceptional Funding Scheme and are keen for this experience to be of use to others.
If you would like to tell PLP about any problems or successes you have had with the scheme, please let us know! We are keen to hear about others’ experiences and to provide support where we can.
We may also be able to assist if you or your client have been refused exceptional funding and you would like to challenge this through the courts.
If any of the above apply, please e-mail email@example.com, or call us on 0207 843 1260.
PLP continues to be open to Exceptional Case Funding referrals, but due to being a small organisation with limited resources, is only able to take on a small number of the cases referred to us.
Applicants should be aware that PLP is only able to offer the limited service of assisting with the application for exceptional funding or challenging a refusal of exceptional funding where appropriate. PLP is not able to offer a casework or advisory service for the applicant’s underlying legal problem and nor is PLP necessarily able to take on cases that have received funding.
PLP cannot accept emergency cases as we do not have an out of hours service and we cannot guarantee that anyone will look at a referral within a specific period of time.
Any services that PLP does provide will be provided under our terms of business.
If you wish to refer your case, or a client’s case to PLP, please use the referral form available here. Please attach all relevant information and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or by post to 150 Caledonian Road, London, N1 9RD. You can also fax us at 0207 837 7048. If contacting us in writing is not suitable for you, please call our main number on 0207 843 1260.
By referring your case to PLP, you understand and agree that:
PLP may draft an application for exceptional funding for you, or else may (at our discretion) refer your case to other lawyers (who might be solicitors, barristers or law students working under a supervising solicitor) who will draft grounds for your application.
PLP or any volunteer lawyer to whom we refer your case, may seek to contact you through the contact information you put on the referral form, to take instructions or request further documents from you where further instructions and/or documents are considered necessary to assist with drafting your application.
All information provided will be kept strictly confidential by PLP save that information may be passed to lawyers assisting you on equivalent terms of confidentiality. In particular, if you are referred to us by any organisation providing you with legal assistance we will assume that we have your consent to share information with that organisation unless you tell us otherwise.
PLP is a not-for-profit organisation and our remit is to improve access to justice. To this end, PLP is taking legal action to try to improve and widen legal aid provision and to make it easier for people to find legal aid solicitors to represent them. We may contact you during the course of your case or after it has ended, to seek your consent to use information and/or documents from your case, as evidence before the Court. Anything that we use will be anonymised with all information removed, so that you cannot be identified. You are not obliged to give your consent.
In the event that PLP or any volunteer lawyer to whom we refer your case considers that further instructions or documents are required to assist with drafting your application for exceptional funding, but are unable, after making reasonable efforts, to take instructions or obtain required documents from you, we may at our discretion refuse to assist you further with drafting your application, and return any documents you have sent us.
The purpose of the referral form is to enable the Public Law Project to understand your legal problem and establish whether you might be eligible for legal aid, in the form of exceptional funding. PLP may not be able to respond to (and may have to disregard) incomplete referral forms.
In the event that PLP or any volunteer lawyer to whom we refer your case considers that on the basis of the instructions and documents you have provided, an application for exceptional funding would be very likely to be rejected, we reserve the right to so notify you, to return your documents to you, and to refuse to assist you further.
Neither PLP nor any volunteer lawyer to whom we refer your case will be acting for you as your solicitor.
This service is being offered by PLP on a pro bono basis drawing heavily on the use of volunteer lawyers. While every effort is taken to ensure that the work that is produced for you will be of a high standard, PLP make no warranties and accepts no professional liability in relation to the correctness of any advice given or document drafted by any third party, whether or not you are made aware of the third party’s involvement in your case.
So far as you are aware, you do not have any business, professional or other association with PLP or any client of PLP (if you consider that you might have some such association, please let us know).
You agree to raise any complaint about the service we provide as a complaint in accordance with our complaints procedure