Legal aid bid could see cars seized

Lady JusticeCriminals who leave taxpayers to foot their legal aid bill - despite being able to pay - face having their cars seized under a new scheme.

The new Motor Vehicle Orders initiative will allow action to be taken against those who have sufficient financial means to contribute towards their own legal aid costs, but have then failed to make the payments owed, the Ministry of Justice said.
Under the scheme, which starts today, the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) will be able to clamp vehicles identified as belonging to the defendant.

After conviction, the LAA can then go back to court for permission to sell the car, putting money raised towards unpaid legal aid costs.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said: "Convicted criminals have cheated innocent taxpayers for too long by dodging requirements to contribute to the legal costs of their defence. I am determined that where they can pay, they will pay.

"Legal aid is not free - it is taxpayers' money. We must bring down the cost of legal aid and our starting point has to be that law-abiding citizens don't foot the bill when those concerned could pay themselves.

"With £34 million owed to taxpayers from the last three years alone, it's time to get tough. I am clear - you can't avoid paying your legal aid bill and expect to keep a fancy car on the driveway."

The scheme launches as Mr Grayling pushes through a raft of controversial reforms in his ''transforming legal aid'' consultation in a bid to save £220 million a year.

The Justice Secretary has previously denied that innocent defendants will be coerced into pleading guilty as a result of changes.

He said told MPs he did not accept that plans to pay lawyers the same fee for a not guilty plea as they would be paid for a guilty plea - which typically takes up less of their time - would lead to undue influence to plead.

And he denied performing a ''U-turn'' over plans to remove a client's right to choose a solicitor after he announced his intention to rework the proposal.

After consulting with the Law Society, which represents some 130,000 solicitors in England and Wales, Mr Grayling said he would look again at the issue and expected to allow a choice of solicitors for clients.

The Crown Court legal aid bill tops £700 million a year but only around 20% of the amount that should be paid back is currently recovered, the MoJ said.

All defendants at the Crown Court are granted legal aid for the cost of their defence, but are expected to contribute to some or all of the costs if convicted, depending on their earnings and assets.

Criminals have avoided repaying by refusing to cooperate with attempts to assess their income or the value of any financial assets they may have, or hiding income or assets to appear unable to pay.

New measures introduced in April mean that if an individual is believed to have assets but is refusing to provide the financial information needed to assess their contribution, they will be actively pursued for their entirety of their bill.

10 consumer rights you should know
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Legal aid bid could see cars seized

The law states that any goods you buy from a UK retailer should be of satisfactory quality, as described, fit for purpose and last a reasonable amount of time.

This applies even if you buy items in a sale or with a discount voucher. You may have to insist on these rights being respected, though.

Useful phrases to use when you want to show you mean business include, "according to the Sale of Goods Act 1979" and, if it's a service, "according to the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982".

Some shops will allow you to exchange goods without a receipt, but they can refuse to should they wish.

If the goods are faulty, however, another proof of purchase such as a bank statement should work just as well.

If you attempt to return goods within four weeks of the purchase, your chances of getting a full refund are much higher as you can argue that you have not "accepted" them.

After this point, you can only really expect an exchange, repair or part-refund.

The updated Consumer Credit Act states that card companies are jointly and severally liable for credit card purchases of between £100 and £60,260 (whether or not you paid just a deposit or the whole amount on your card).

Anyone spending between these amounts on their credit card is therefore protected if the retailer or service provider goes bust, their online shopping never arrives or the items in question are faulty or not as described.

Start by writing to the agency asking it to either remove or change the entry that you think is wrong. It will investigate the matter and find out whether you have been the victim of ID theft or a bank's mistake.

Within 28 days from receipt of your letter the agency should tell you how the bank has responded. If the bank agrees to change the entry, they will authorise the agency to update their records. They should also send updates to any other credit reference agencies they use.

You can also contact your lender directly to query a mistake. If the lender agrees to the discrepancy, ask them to confirm this in writing on their letterhead and send a copy to the agency, asking them to update your file.

The FOS settles disputes between financial companies such as banks and consumers.

If a financial organisation rejects a complaint you make about its services, you can therefore escalate that complaint to the FOS - as long as you have given the company in question at least eight weeks to respond.

The FOS will then investigate the case, and could force the company to offer you compensation should it see fit.

Bailiffs are allowed to take some of your belongings to sell on to cover certain debts, including unpaid Council Tax and parking fines.

They can, for example, take so-called luxury items such as TVs or games consoles. However, they cannot take essentials such as fridges or clothes.

What's more, they can only generally enter your home to take your stuff if you leave a door or window open or invite them in.

You are therefore within your rights to refuse them access and to ask for related documents such as proof of their identity. If they try to force their way in, you can also call the police to stop them.

Private sector debt collectors do not have the same powers as bailiffs, whatever they tell you.

They cannot, for example, enter your home and take your possessions in lieu of payment.

In fact, they can only write, phone, or visit your home to talk to you about paying back the debt. As with bailiffs, you can also call the police if you feel physically threatened.

Thanks to the Distance Selling Regulations, you actually have more rights buying online or by phone than on the High Street.

You can, for example, send most goods back within a week, for a full refund (including outward delivery costs), even if there's no fault.

You will usually need to pay for the return delivery, though. The seller must then refund you within 30 days.

We enter into contracts all the time, whether it be to join a gym, switch energy supplier or take out a loan.

In most cases, once you've signed a contract, you are legally bound by it. In some situations, however, you have the right to cancel it within a certain timeframe.

Credit agreements, for example, can be cancelled within 14 days. And online retailers must tell you about your cancellation rights for any contract made up to stand up legally.

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