Although no one’s ever heard of it, and this is compounded by the fact that no one seems to be using it, the government have a web page called Civil Legal Advice, which allows you to work out whether or not you can get legal aid.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t even manage to do that – which may explain why the government is currently reviewing this service – as once you’ve filled out the mind-numbing form online (which runs to several pages), you get an irritating message at the end telling you “may” qualify for legal aid, and to input all your personal information into the last page so they, whoever they are, can call you back.

It’s a lot of hassle for very little. We know, because we gave it a go. We presented as a divorcing woman with one child under 15, no income and only jewellery to show for our worldly wealth. When the form asks you for the value of the jewellery, you have to assume they mean what you’d get for it today, which is also unhelpful as most of us haven’t a clue. If the form wants to know what you paid for the jewellery or how much someone else paid for it, this would be equally pointless – you certainly wouldn’t get that much for it today, whatever it was. So, as you can see, the online service, which is in Beta phase to be fair (although that doesn’t excuse its clumsy process) is less than helpful.

The other thing that’s not very clear is who exactly is going to call you back. Is it a volunteer at a charity? A civil servant? A telephone operator with one of those annoying handbooks filled with questions they can’t deviate from (whatever you do, don’t ask them if they’re human), or an engaged ring tone? Apparently, it’s a Civil Legal Advice operator. So, the dude with the handbook then. Goody. But not before you’ve given your full name, telephone number, address, and synopsis of what your problem is. Just in case the five pages of multiple choice you filled out didn’t quite do your dilemma justice.

If you’re not feeling suicidal at this point, you probably will once you realise the operator might end up passing you on to a  CLA specialist adviser. That’s if you qualify for legal aid.

So it’s a three-step process, where you have to repeat yourself constantly, both online and on the phone and then, if you’re lucky you might get legal support.

We’re tired just thinking about this process.

It seems ridiculous to us – why not just have a phone line, where you can talk to people quickly and efficiently and then find out if further action can be taken. The whole process as it stands relies on people filling out the form accurately, and it’s not a very good form by any means, so that by a process of elimination the phone operators don’t have to ‘waste their time’ with people who may not qualify. A system like this will inevitably result in many people who could have qualified, not being given the opportunity to do so.

And that’s what’s wrong with service in this country. Our government wants to do, and give the bare minimum.

If you’re bored and don’t mind the rigmarole, you can see if you qualify for legal aid here. If you’d rather dive into the Thames naked, we’ll be standing by the shore line with a flask of tea.

legal aid

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