Financial Help for People on Low Incomes
If you are separating and receive a low income you will probably be able to claim from a number of sources of financial assistance. From tax credits and benefits through to assistance with childcare to free legal advice and representation - if you are eligible you should consider applying.
Legal AidIf you are on a low income you will almost certainly be able to receive legal aid. If you are on benefits you are definitely eligible. If not, your income and capital must be within the recommended financial threshold. Just ask your solicitor and you can make an application together. Remember the process might take a little while to go through so apply as early as possible. Legal aid comes in a number of forms:
- Legal Help: Help drawing up and completing legal forms and documents.
- Help at Court: A solicitor speaks on your behalf at hearings.
- Help at Mediation: Legal advice if you are attending mediation sessions.
- General Family Help: Help specifically to resolve family disputes.
- Legal Representation: This can be investigative help as well as full representation at court.
Law Centres and Other OptionsDepending on your specific circumstances you may be able to get some or all of the above forms of help. If you are not eligible, try your local Law Centre (link to article on CABs and Law Centres?). They offer free advice to anyone regardless of their circumstances.
Also, some solicitors give free legal assistance on the basis that the client will pay a portion of the costs once a settlement on property or capital has been made. If you do not have much money, are not eligible for state assistance but want proper representation, this may be the right option for you.
Tax and BenefitsIf you are the only adult in your household you will be considered a separate individual by the Inland Revenue, and will be eligible for a 25% reduction in council tax. You may also be eligible for a number of other tax credits, depending on your income. If you have children no matter what your income you can claim basic Child Benefit.
All tax credits are means-tested, but you may be surprised what you are eligible for as a single parent, even if your earnings are relatively high. Credits are divided into a basic family ‘element’ and a child element for each of your dependants. You can claim the entire family element of £547 even if you earn £55,000 per year. The child elements are awarded at the maximum level of £1,760 if you earn less than £16,000. Above that threshold they start to reduce the amount.
Remember that once you apply for benefits, the Child Support Agency becomes involved. As part of a divorce settlement involving children, the court will usually consider what the CSA would recommend if it were asked to make a ruling regarding residency and maintenance. The ground rules about what constitutes a fair settlement and related maintenance payment issues are set by the CSA.