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On 1 April 2013 the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 came into force and legal aid was withdrawn for most family matters. Legal aid is now only available for advice and action in limited circumstances that all generally relate to cases where there is a risk of harm. This has led to many firms that did mostly legal aid work being extremely hard hit. They will now turn their hands to more private work, and firms offering exclusively private work may wonder whether they will be hard hit by other firms doing more private work - possibly on a cheaper basis. It is certainly a worrying and changing time for family lawyers.
When is legal aid available for mediation?
What doesn't seem to be making the headlines is that legal aid remains available for mediation. This is often a small sentence thrown away in articles about the sweeping changes to the legal aid system, yet it is hugely important. The means test for mediation makes it available for people on a relatively decent income (a gross of £2,657 per month or £31,884 per annum, for anyone with four children or less). You can also have up to £8,000 in savings or £100,000 of equity and still qualify. It is not just for people on benefits. Given this and the fact that legal aid is not available to obtain advice from solicitors in most cases, you would be forgiven for expecting a sudden and dramatic upsurge in the amount of couples going to mediation.
Why are mediation referrals decreasing?
Yet the news stories of last week were all full of statistics about the dramatic downturn in the number of mediation referrals. According to figures quoted in the Law Society Gazette referrals fell by 26
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