In December 2017 the Government announced that the rules on the evidence required to obtain Legal Aid in domestic abuse cases would be relaxed. At that point it was not clear exactly what the rules would be and whether there would still be a requirement that the evidence must show that the abuse had taken place within a certain timeframe. A concern was that as the focus had been on the domestic abuse, the evidence requirement to demonstrate child abuse would still have arbitrary time limit.
The new regulations came into force on 8th January 2018 and there are some significant changes.
Time limits have been scrapped totally so the abuse can have taken place at any time in the past. In certain circumstances the evidence of domestic abuse can relate to another person with whom the perpetrator was in a family relationship. For example, evidence that the perpetrator was arrested a domestic violence offence on a different partner will now be accepted.
A letter from a housing officer or a domestic abuse support organisation will now suffice; as will a letter from the Home Office that a victim has been granted leave to remain in the UK due to domestic violence.
The definition of domestic abuse includes financial abuse which has now been specifically included within the evidence requirements. However, it is not possible to prescribe exactly what constitutes financial abuse. The rules say that this evidence can be in many forms, for example, copies of bank statements and/or cancelled cheques. As there is an element of subjectivity, the view of the solicitor looking at the evidence may that that there is financial abuse but the Legal Aid Agency may disagree.
Despite the widening of the evidence requirements, the fact that this has to produced at all causes confusion and stress for people in already difficult circumstances. The requirements are still extremely strict in what actually has to be said in any report or letter.
The rules have been amended a number of times since they were introduced in 2013; the new guidance now runs to 31 pages.
As time goes on the guidance will inevitably be revised again. The danger is therefore that everyone will get so bogged down in red tape that the client’s actual legal problem will be pushed to the bottom of the pile.