Wales on Sunday, 14th February 2016

A Cardiff woman going through a divorce says she has been left penniless and living on charity because the Government has slashed spending on legal aid.

Francisca Rigaud says she has been living in a house offered to her by strangers on Facebook who learned of her plight. The 58 year old, who is originally from Portugal, says many others have suffered the same fate after the UK Government toughened legal aid rules.

Ms Rigaud says she receives maintenance payments of around £1,000 per month from her husband and there is no court order obliging him to pay legal fees or meet her accommodation costs.

Melanie Hamer, a director of Cardiff-based Wendy Hopkins Family Law Practice, said since legal aid was withdrawn many people now go through the courts representing themselves and can “end up with a raw deal”.

She said she makes efforts to ensure she gets a “legal fees order” for her clients, while finance firm Novitas also offers loans to women going through divorces.

Ms Hamer said: “Lawyers could see these sort of problems would arise and it’s really unfair because people are then denied access to lawyers and they end up representing themselves and it must be dreadful for them.”

She stressed it’s not just women who have been hurt following the legal aid reform – in cases where they don’t hold the purse strings men too have suffered.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Our legal aid system is still one of the most generous in the world. Last year we spent £1.6 billion, which is almost a quarter of our departmental budget.

“We are determined to make sure victims of domestic violence can get legal aid whenever they need it and legal aid continues to be available in the highest priority cases, including those where domestic violence is a factor.

“We know how challenging it is for victims of domestic violence to take their case to court, and so made it easier for victims of domestic violence to obtain the evidence needed to access legal aid.”