Extending legal aid to special guardians

Legal aid has been widened to family and friends applying to look after a vulnerable child – however, we believe the changes do not go far enough.
Closeup of unrecognizable older woman with arm round teenage girl, holding a teddy bear and looking down at forms on a clipboard

Applying for a special guardianship order (SGO) is one way that relatives (grandparents, siblings, aunts or uncles) or family friends can step in to take care of a child when they cannot be raised by their parents.

This allows children to stay within a family or friends’ unit, avoiding the need for them to go into the care system.

From 1 May 2023, people seeking and responding to SGOs will be eligible for legal aid in private family law proceedings.

We’ve long argued for legal aid to be extended to SGOs but “unfortunately the changes don’t go far enough,” said Law Society of England and Wales vice president Nick Emmerson.

We believe legal aid for special guardians should be non-means tested.

Grandparents falling through the justice gap

Many special guardians are grandparents, who may fall through the justice gap as they are excluded from legal aid by the capital in their home.

However, they still may not have enough income from a pension to pay for legal costs.

“It is better for the child and better financially for the public purse if an SGO can be arranged and making legal aid for special guardians non-means tested would help achieve this,” said Nick Emmerson.

Lack of legal aid and advice is undermining kinship care, according to an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) report on kinship care.

In 2022, we supported the APPG’s call for non-means tested free legal advice for kinship carers to ensure they know their rights and can secure a child’s future.

Read our response to the APPG's call for evidence (PDF 236 KB)

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