To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, if he will make it her policy to make legal aid accessible to low income parents to support child contact and maintenance arrangements.
Legal aid is already available for certain private family law cases, where there is evidence of domestic abuse and for all EU and international child custody, maintenance, contact, and prevention of abduction cases. Where an issue falls outside the scope of legal aid, funding may still be available through the Exceptional Case Funding (ECF) Scheme, where it would breach or risk a breach of human rights or retained enforceable EU law if funding is not provided, subject to the statutory means and merits tests.
Legal aid is also subject to a means test. Individuals in receipt of certain means-tested benefits, including Universal Credit, are currently passported through the income part of the means test. We are in the process of reviewing the means test for legal aid to assess the effectiveness with which it protects access to justice, particularly for those who are vulnerable. In doing so, we are considering the full range of means-testing criteria, including the income thresholds for civil and criminal legal aid and the passporting provisions for people receiving certain benefits. This review will be published, with an accompanying consultation, in Autumn 2021.