This question came up last week when I was going through the bank statement of a new client whom I proposed to advise and assist under the Legal Help Scheme. She was receiving Income Support and entitled to be treated as receiving a passported benefit for Legal Aid purposes.
What worried me when going through the bank statement was that whilst there was clear evidence of payment in of Income Support there were other payments in such as child support and some other payments. I was not sure how high the level of this additional income would have to be before somebody at the Legal Aid Agency might refuse payment for the work on this case because I was said to have failed to adequately consider whether the client was property in receipt of Income Support.
I found an explanation what properly in receipt of a passported benefit means at paragraph 4 on page 12 of the Legal Aid Agency’s Means Assessment Guidance. This states:-
The passporting benefit must be currently in payment (e.g. the individual will not be passported if the benefit claim is still being processed or if payments are suspended pending a fraud investigation) and the individual must be legally entitled to the payment. If the passporting benefit is in payment but there is a suspicion that an individual may not be “properly” in receipt—e.g. representations have been made against the individual’s means or the individual’s own declarations have indicated that relevant facts such as a partner, employment, sources of income and capital etc. have not been advised to the benefit office—their legal aid claim will not be passported.
The answer would therefore appear to be whether the information provided by the client gives rise to a suspicion that they are not entitled to the passported benefit which they are receiving. Following the withdrawal of Legal Aid for Welfare Benefits work the Legal Aid Agency can not expect most of us to have a specialist eye for possible non entitlement. I think therefore that as long was we can record that we have no suspicion that the information provided by the client means that they are not entitled to the passported benefit which they are receiving we should not be at risk of not getting paid.
I think that the danger signs when looking at the bank statements or other information provided by the client will be situations such as:-
- The client’s net income for the month up to the date when they sign the Legal Help is more than the net income limit for non passported benefits – ie £733.00.
- The client’s wages are more than the Universal Credit Work Allowances.
This is not meant to be definitive advice on this question. I would welcome any comments on here or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org If anyone would like to correct what I have said or add to it.