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Domestic abuse survivors locked out of legal aid by doctors’ fees
MoneySavingExpert.com investigation reveals GPs charging
victims £100s for evidence supporting legal aid applications
An investigation by MoneySavingExpert.com has found that people who have suffered domestic violence and want to take their case to court have been charged more than £100 by their GP to provide evidence to support their legal aid application.
MoneySavingExpert.com conducted interviews with 10 family law solicitors from across England and Wales. All 10 have seen people who have suffered domestic violence forced to pay for a GP to support a legal aid application. Five of the 10 have seen fees of £100 or more charged. They told us the typical fee was around £50, but in one case, as much as £300 was charged.
MoneySavingExpert.com news editor Steve Nowottny says: “Domestic violence survivors seeking legal aid because they’re on a limited income are among the most vulnerable people in society. So it’s hugely worrying some are facing hefty charges when they go to their GP for help – and it would be a tragedy if anyone simply gave up and dropped their case as a result.
“GPs are obviously in a tricky position, given they’re not paid to do this work by the NHS. But ideally no practices would charge.
“At the very least, if some do, there must be clear guidance on what’s an appropriate amount, and patients who can’t afford to pay should be directed to free alternative ways of getting the evidence they need.”
Pressure is building on the Government to take action on these unfair fees. The British Medical Association (BMA) has demanded that the Government provide NHS funding to support evidence-gathering for legal aid applications. Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson MP has also launched a petition calling for the fees to be scrapped.
Watson told MoneySavingExpert.com: “I learned about the GP fee when I visited a centre for victims of domestic abuse in Wythenshawe. I couldn't believe it. People suffering domestic abuse are already incredibly vulnerable. We should be taking action to help them, not demanding payment for a letter they need to access justice.
"Help for victims of domestic violence should never come at a price."
Why are survivors being charged?
Since changes to legal aid criteria in 2013, applicants have had to provide evidence that they or their children have experienced domestic abuse, and many go to their GP for help.
Signing legal aid evidence is outside the NHS contract, which means that GPs receive no Government funding for it. Guidelines from the BMA state that doctors should explain the reasons for the fee and agree the amount in advance, but there is no suggestion for a typical fee they should charge, if they choose to charge for it.
Applicants for civil legal aid are means-tested and the limit for disposable income is £733/month. Paying for the required evidence is causing some who have suffered and are struggling financially to drop legal proceedings because they can’t afford to pursue them.
One survivor from the Midlands was asked to pay £175, and said to MoneySavingExpert.com: “I was shocked when I was told to pay so much. I’m unemployed and have very little money so I was worried I might have to drop my case.”
Notes to editors:
Steve Nowottny, news and features editor at MoneySavingExpert.com, is available for any further commentary or broadcast opportunities.
See the full story at MoneySavingExpert.com.
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