Government responds to legal aid means test review

On 25 May, the government released its response to the legal aid means test review. The response contains crucial changes to the means test which will make it more accessible to survivors.  

Access to free legal advice and representation is vital for victim-survivors to get justice and rebuild their lives. However, survivors wanting to access legal aid must go through a means test to determine eligibility.  

SEA’s 2021 report, ‘Denied Justice’, found that the means test was preventing women from using the legal system in a fair and equal way to seek justice, as they leave an abuser, attempt to rebuild their lives and protect their children. Without access to free legal support, victim-survivors of abuse are left with an impossible choice – represent themselves in court and deal with the abuser, or pay the eye-watering fees for legal representation. Many survivors resort to selling their homes or taking on crushing debt to afford this. A lack of legal support can also lead to poorer outcomes for a survivor in child contact decisions or financial remedy proceedings.  

“I don’t know if you understand how utterly traumatic this is against an abusive perpetrator, who will not listen or care and realistically wants to destroy you and take everything, and always has.” – Expert by Experience 

We called for all victim-survivors of domestic abuse to be exempt from the means test to ensure they can access the legal support they need.  

In 2022 SEA responded to the Ministry of Justice consultation on the legal aid means test review where we called again for total exemption from the means test, as well as recommending key changes – you can read this here. 

The new measures proposed by the government will make legal aid more accessible to survivors and we’re glad the government has listened to SEA and other organisations as well as the victim-survivors we work with to make these improvements.   

These changes include –  

  • Victim-survivors of domestic abuse on Universal Credit will no longer face a means test to access legal aid when applying for protective orders for themselves or their children. Currently, survivors seeking protective orders may be waived through the means test but may later have to pay contributions towards legal aid.  
  • Inaccessible capital has been removed from the means test.. This means joint assets like a shared home will no longer be considered when accessing someone’s financial eligibility for aid. This is important for victim-survivors of economic abuse who often don’t have access to all the assets in their name as a result of financial control by the perpetrator. SEA wants to work with the government to treat all joint assets, including money in joint bank accounts, as inaccessible capital.  
  • If a victim-survivor is fleeing their home temporarily to escape abuse and reach safety, the equity of their home will be disregarded when assessing their finances for the means test. This means more survivors will not have to face the prospect of selling their home to fund legal costs. While this is a welcome step forward SEA and others would like to see this extended to victim-survivors who have left permanently.  


All domestic abuse victim-survivors must be able to access justice – that’s why we want to work with the government on implementing this review to enable greater numbers of victim-survivors to access legal aid.  We will continue to call for them to be exempt from the means test altogether in civil, family and immigration proceedings.  

If you think you may be experiencing economic abuse, we have information on accessing legal support on our website.