What is Legal Aid and How Does it Help Asylum Seekers?
Making a successful asylum claim is a challenging process, and you must prove that you cannot safely live in your own country due to war or are facing persecution because of your personal characteristics. Making a successful asylum claim is difficult and will usually require help from a solicitor. A solicitor can do the following for your claim:
- Organising appointments for your claim.
- Writing formal statements on your behalf.
- Advising you on the strength of your claim.
- Advocate for your release if immigration services detain you.
- Prepare your application and represent you if you must appeal.
- Help you understand what will happen with your case.
A solicitor’s help is invaluable if you are claiming asylum, but it can be very expensive. If you have very little money, you might be entitled to free legal advice known as legal aid. The following services may be included in your legal aid:
- Advice on your rights and your current options.
- Help completing applications and negotiating with UK immigration services.
- Representation if you are accused of a crime.
- Speaking on your behalf if your case is taken to court.
The following article will help you to understand how legal aid works for asylum seekers, the benefits and limitations of using legal aid, and the eligibility criteria.
Applying for Legal Aid Services
Being an asylum seeker or victim of human trafficking is one of the primary qualification categories for legal aid. However, you will not have an automatic right to access legal aid, and you will need to make a successful application to the Legal Aid Agency (LAA).
The standard legal aid application will take up to four weeks to process. In this case, you will need to submit the following forms and information electronically:
- Personal identification documentation if you have them.
- Details of your income, savings, and any property you own.
- A completed application form.
Many asylum seekers’ cases are too urgent to wait four weeks for this kind of application to be processed as they will be at risk of detention or may be detained already.
You can make a faster application if you are already working with a solicitor who is able to provide legal aid services. They can make an emergency written application on your behalf. After 2-3 days, the LAA will let your solicitor know if your application is urgent enough for emergency processing. If this stage is successful, you will need to work with the solicitor to complete all the forms and pull all the documentation together within five days.
How to Choose a Legal Aid Asylum Solicitor
If you qualify for legal aid, there is no requirement to get a solicitor to represent you during your application and any court appearances. However, most asylum seekers need a solicitor to help them manage the UK’s complex asylum system. No two layers are the same, and it is worth taking the time to choose the right solicitor for you. The first thing to consider is that the solicitor must be consistent with the following basic requirements which always apply:
- The solicitor is accredited by the Law Society of England and Wales or the Law Society of Scotland, depending on the location from which you are submitting your application.
- The firm has a good reputation. You can judge this by checking if they are ranked in the Legal 500 directory.
- The solicitor is specialised in immigration law and preferably has worked on asylum cases.
- They have worked on legal aid cases before.
There are also a number of more subjective factors that should go into your decision.
Firstly, you should check their reviews online to make sure that other people seeking asylum support have had a good experience with them.
Secondly, you will need a solicitor that is responsive to your questions and needs.
Finally, if you can’t access legal aid, you might need to pay for a solicitor to help with your asylum claim. It is worth checking that they don’t charge astronomically high fees in advance of reaching out to them.
As an asylum seeker, you are collaborating in a team with your legal aid solicitor to provide the best possible chance of your application being processed. This means that both you and the solicitor are responsible for building and maintaining a good relationship. The following section covers this relationship in three areas:
- What your legal aid solicitor will need.
- Your expectations of your solicitor.
- Your solicitor’s expectations of you.
What Your Legal Aid Solicitor Will Need
When compiling your application, there are several pieces of documentation and personal information that your legal aid solicitor will need. Firstly, they will need to get to grips with your personal background, which includes your:
- Marital status.
- Dependents both inside and outside of the UK.
- Employment status.
- Criminal convictions at home and in the UK.
- Immigration status and history.
- Your goal, i.e., claiming asylum.
On top of these pieces of personal information, you will also need to supply several pieces of documentation. Please note that as an asylum seeker, you may not have access to all of this documentation, but any documents you can supply will help your solicitor to pull together your application. Common documentation to supply includes the following:
- Your passport.
- Any visas you currently hold.
- Marriage or birth certificates to prove any relations you have inside and outside of the UK.
- Any ongoing employment contracts.
- Financial information.
Remember that each asylum case is different. Your solicitor should be able to advise you on the documentation and information that will be beneficial for your case.
Your Expectations of Your Solicitor
All good solicitors will be honest with you from the start of your case, setting reasonable expectations. This includes timescales, outcomes, and costs depending on what services are covered by legal aid.
Therefore, the best expectation to communicate to your solicitor is that they must be transparent with you. If your application hits any barriers, you will need to know immediately so you can start working out what to do if your application is not accepted.
Furthermore, you should also have basic expectations of their abilities. The solicitor should be capable of meeting any deadlines for your application and completing the application to a standard that gives it a high chance of success.
Your Solicitor’s Expectations of You
As they may be working with you across multiple weeks and months, it is fair that the solicitor will have some expectations of you to ensure you have a positive and productive relationship.
Most importantly, you need to be honest. You may be embarrassed or feel negative about some aspects of your life or the reasons that you are claiming asylum, but these facts will be necessary for your legal aid solicitor to complete your application successfully.
You can also help your legal aid solicitor by staying organised. If you keep all your documents on hand and respond promptly to any of their questions, you will help them to complete your application quickly and effectively.
Your solicitor will also enjoy working with you more if you are respectful. Asylum support cases can feel immensely stressful, considering the terrifying consequences of having an unsuccessful application. However, you still need to understand that your solicitor will be working on multiple cases simultaneously, and you should give them appropriate space by not demanding immediate responses to your questions or concerns.
Finally, you should help your solicitor by avoiding doing anything in the UK that will jeopardise your initial legal aid application and your following asylum application. This includes cooperating with the requirements of immigration authorities and avoiding breaking the law.
Using legal aid services can be invaluable in helping you prove that you should have the right to claim asylum in the UK. You will need to show that you fit a range of eligibility criteria, showing that you cannot live safely at home because you are facing persecution due to your:
- Political opinion.
- Social, cultural, or religious identity.
- LGBTQ+ identity.
If these criteria apply to you, you may be able to bring your partner and children with you as your dependents. However, they will not have independent refugee status and can only remain in the UK for as long as you can.
Factors Disqualifying Refugees from Claiming Asylum
Regardless of the persecution you are facing in your home country, there are some factors that will prevent you from successfully seeking asylum. These are that you:
- Are from the EU.
- Have travelled to the UK via a safe third country.
- Have a pre-existing connection to a safe third country.
A safe third country is defined as one that you are not a citizen of, you would not be harmed in, and will not send you back to a country that you may be harmed in.
The asylum screening process exists to allow applicants to notify border officials that they are seeking asylum and to verify that applicants meet the basic requirements. This process can happen at the border or at an asylum intake unit.
During the screening interview, you will need to provide biometric information and any documents you have. You will also need to provide the following information:
- Date of birth.
- Ethnic background.
- Reasons for claiming asylum.
The interview will usually last 1-2 hours. After the interview, you will be assigned one of three decisions:
- Non-detained general casework: you may live in the UK while your case is being processed.
- Detained non-suspensive appeal: you will be detained until your substantive interview and will have no right of appeal if your application is refused.
- Unaccompanied minor: you are under 18. The Home Office may order an age assessment if they think you are over 18.
After your asylum screening, you will move on to the substantive interview. This is a deeper interview requiring you to go into substantial detail about the persecution that you experienced before coming to the UK. You can expect it to last 4-6 hours, but you will be able to bring a legal aid solicitor with you to represent you, and you are entitled to an interpreter as required.
The substantive interview can be a traumatic process for the asylum seeker. You are allowed to request breaks as needed and the Home Office official present should be understanding of this need.
The success of your substantive interview depends on your ability to accurately communicate your story to justify the need for asylum in your case. Make sure to ask to practice thoroughly with your solicitor before the interview so that you are well-versed in all the details that you will need to bring up to benefit your case.
This interview will be recorded. Make sure that your solicitor requests a transcript afterward as this can be essential evidence if an asylum appeal is required.
Manchester Immigration Lawyers can offer you legal aid provision, which means if you are eligible, we will be able to give legal advice and assist you with the completion of your asylum application. Our legal team are experienced in dealing with asylum matters for applicants from all over the world, and are sensitive to your practical and emotional needs. We can work with you to prepare all required documentation and give you the assistance needed to prepare for your substantive interview. We also have connections within the Home Office, which we can use to keep you updated on the progress of your application. Then, when your application is completed, we can give you advice on your next steps depending on the outcome, including launching appeals if your application is rejected.
If you are an asylum seeker who is looking for legal assistance, please call us today at 0161 826 9783. Alternatively, you can visit us online to learn more about the services we offer.
Last modified on November 9th, 2023 at 10:09 am
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Fitting into life in the UK has a multitude of challenges beyond making sure that you have the legal right to claim asylum in the UK. Luckily, there are a range of excellent charities that can help you to arrange housing, education, and find English language classes.
Moreover, once your asylum claim has been submitted, you can start to receive financial support. This will start on the day that you register your claim for asylum.
Finally, if the situation in your home country concludes, you might want to return home once you decide it is safe to do so. The UK government has programs that will help you to arrange transport to go home.
In 2012, the Legal Aid, Sentencing, and Punishing of Offenders Act severely restricted the provision of legal aid across a range of fields, including immigration and asylum claims. The act has made it much harder for asylum seekers to obtain legal aid.
Since 2005, 56% of legal aid providers have been lost, while not-for-profit providers have fallen 64%. Meanwhile, in a study by Refugee Action, 87% of respondents said it had become more difficult to refer asylum seekers to legal aid services.
If the LAA thinks you have failed to prove your eligibility for legal aid, believe that the cost of pursuing the case is not proportional to the benefits, or think you have enough personal finances to obtain your own legal advice, your application may be refused.
The LAA does have an appeal procedure that you can use to access legal aid services if your application is denied. You will need to submit evidence explaining why your case should be eligible for legal aid.
If your appeal is successful, then you will be able to proceed, benefiting from legal aid provisions. However, if your case is not successful, then you will be given the reasons why and informed on how you can make a higher appeal via the Independent Funding Adjudicator (IFA). If all your appeals are unsuccessful, you will not be able to access legal aid.