Can I get Legal Aid for my Employment Claim?
Paying your legal fees when you have an Employment case
Can I get Legal Aid for my Employment Claim?
Since 2013 the availability of Legal Aid for many matters, including Employment disputes, has been very much reduced.
Legal Aid is not now generally available for paying your legal fees in terms of Employment claims.
If a dispute relates to discrimination, then Legal Aid may still be available. However, it could be a restricted type known as Legal Help which would not cover you for a court or tribunal hearing but may help you prepare for those.
Another point to understand is that even if an Employment case is one of the few that still qualifies for Legal Aid, there is quite a strict means test. It does not take much in terms of income or assets to be excluded by the means test.
Finally, there are not many Employment solicitors left who will take on Legal Aid cases. They must have a special contract with the Legal Aid Agency to do so and they are getting less in number. So, it can be quite difficult to find a solicitor to do this type of Legal Aid work.
If you cannot get Legal Aid, how can you fund an Employment claim?
Some people could be covered for these types of claims through Legal Expense Insurance. Typically, this is attached to other insurance policies like your household buildings and contents policy. Some membership organisations such as trade unions or professional associations also cover Employment dispute legal fees.
So, it is always worth checking your insurance policies or memberships to see whether you are covered for Employment dispute legal fees. If you are, then the first step is usually to contact the insurers or membership organisation who will direct you further.
Some solicitors now offer Damages Based Agreements. These are sometimes known as “No win No Fee” agreements, where the solicitor will agree only to charge you if you win your case in which event, they will take a share of any compensation that you win. It is up to you and your solicitor to agree when you start the case on how much that share would be and different solicitors may charge different amounts, so it may be worth comparing. But before any solicitor takes a case on this basis, they will have to be comfortable that you are likely to win otherwise they won’t be paid. Different solicitors may take a different view on how much risk they are prepared to take. Solicitors don’t have to offer you a Damages Based Agreement and not all do them.
Some solicitors my offer you a hybrid arrangement where they charge a discounted amount if you lose but more if you win. That may work if you cannot afford their normal rates and they will discount them in return for a share of any compensation that you win.
Some of these arrangements can get quite complex so its important to understand at the outset what you are agreeing to and what will happen if you win or lose.
Finally, some solicitors will only take an Employment law case on if you pay them for the work they do regardless of the outcome.
Even with this there can be variations because some solicitors will offer a fixed fee. If a fixed fee is offered its important to be clear about what it covers and what it may not. Sometimes barrister’s fees for a tribunal hearing may not be included for example and that could make thousands of pounds of difference.
If the solicitor is not offering a fixed fee but is simply going to charge an hourly rate, they should give you an estimate of the costs. That is not the same as a fixed fee because costs could be more or less than the estimate or may change. But solicitors are required to give clients costs estimates and keep clients updated on them. You also need to know when payment is due. Unless it’s a Damages Based Agreement most solicitors will want an amount upfront and will bill on a monthly basis for the work that they have done.
Most solicitors will charge by the hour for the hours they put in, at a rate agreed with you. A lower hourly rate does not always mean a lower overall bill because one solicitor may take more hours than another solicitor. That is why it I important to get an estimate of the overall costs as well as the hourly rate.
Whatever happens, with an Employment case you should not delay. You usually only have 3 months to pursue Employment cases in the Employment Tribunal and it becomes increasingly difficult to find solicitors the closer to the deadline that you get because solicitors need time to prepare a case and they usually don’t like cases where a deadline is about to expire. So do not delay in finding a solicitor and sorting out funding if you want to use one.