Free Legal services for young people under threat

Young people across Australia should be celebrating the opportunity to ‘Be The Future’ this National Youth Week says the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC), not worrying about their legal problems or the ability to pay bills for a legal issue that won’t go away.

Community Legal Centres (CLCs) provide free legal help to children and young people across Australia. In 2015, CLCs assisted over 74,000 young people between 18-34 years and over 3,500 young people under 18 years. CLCs also provide free legal help to parents and others on issues affecting children, including over 3,300 advices on child protection issues and over 4,000 advices on child support last year” said Rosslyn Monro, NACLC Chairperson.

The Youth Advocacy Centre is a specialist CLC based in Brisbane. “We provide a range of services including legal advice and referrals to young people in the youth justice and child protection systems, and information and support to young people appearing in courts and tribunals, including a duty lawyer service at the Brisbane Children’s Court” said Janet Wight, Director, Youth Advocacy Centre.

“As well as providing court/casework to young people, we also run community legal education in schools and in the community which is crucial in letting young people know what their legal rights are, and what to do if they have a legal problem.”

The young people we help are extremely vulnerable. For example, last year 44% of our legal services clients were not living at home; 50% of our legal, youth support and family support clients had a past or current substance use problem; 45% of family support clients had a past or current mental health problem; and 77% of our bail support clients were known to Child Safety Services. Our service is crucial in ensuring that these young people get the advice and support they need,” Ms Wight said.

“At Youthlaw we are co-located with other youth services. We assist vulnerable young people who would otherwise not seek out legal help by themselves. They come from backgrounds of family breakdown, family violence, neglect and disadvantage. Most have been in families that have had no intervention from child protection system and are largely invisible to the community. We assist with their fines, debts, mistreatment and interactions with authorities. They are so thankful for our help. For once they feel the support and protection of the law instead of fearing its use against them. Legal help along with other services makes a big difference and allows them to get on with their lives,” said Ariel Couchman, Director of Youthlaw, based in Melbourne.

CLCs use a range of innovative tools to engage with children and young people. For example, the

2014 National Census of Community Legal Centres indicated that almost 20 percent of CLCs that responded use skype to provide legal advice and over 16 percent use Youtube to provide community legal education.

Youthlaw in Melbourne is an example of one of those CLCs that uses skype to reach out to its clients. Ms Couchman said “our skype legal service throughout regional Victoria reaches out to vulnerable young people where there is high disadvantage and few services and supports. This service is simple & cost effective and works with those most in need yet we struggle every year to get funding to keep it going.”

“However, CLCs across Australia face a 30% funding cut to Federal funding from 1 July next year. That sort of cut will have a significant impact on the ability of CLCs to help children and young people who need our help” added Rosslyn Monro, NACLC Chairperson.

As a result, this National Youth Week, NACLC reiterates its call for:

  1. Reversal of the Commonwealth funding cuts to CLCs under the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance amounting to $34.83 million from 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2020
  2. An immediate injection of $200 million per year into the broader legal assistance service system, as recommended by the Productivity Commission, which should be shared between the Commonwealth (60%) and the States and Territories (40%). This should equate to at least an additional $24 million per year allocated to CLCs ($14.4 million p.a. Commonwealth and $9.6 million p.a. from States and Territories); and
  3. A commitment by all levels of Government to implementing an appropriate process for determining adequate and sustainable longer-term funding contributions for legal assistance in consultation with the sector.

Open the link to view the PDF: Free Legal services for young people under threat

 To arrange an interview or for more information please contact:

 Rosslyn Monro, NACLC Chairperson, 0407 633 084
Jackie Levett, Media Officer, 0434 995 611
Janet Wight, Director, Youth Advocacy Centre (Brisbane), 07 3356 1002
Ariel Couchman, Director, Youthlaw (Melbourne), 0438 812 937

 

Funding certainty call for Indigenous family violence legal help

The Community Law Australia national access to justice campaign calls on the Prime Minister and Attorney-General to guarantee a direct and sustainable funding allocation to the Family Violence Prevention Legal Services (FVPLS) program.

Funding uncertainty for the program and its high-need Indigenous family violence clients has entered a critical phase under new tender arrangements, with the government failing to confirm if legal services are even eligible under guidelines for the Indigenous Advancement Strategy released on 8 August.

“We know the high need of Indigenous women and children for legal help with family violence. Yet this funding uncertainty compounds the deep cuts to the program in December 2013 and the significant cuts to the broader community legal sector advised both in December and as part of the May Federal Budget,” said Carolyn Bond AO, national spokesperson for the Community Law Australia national access to justice campaign.

In December 2013, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet assumed responsibility for the program from the Attorney-General’s Department. Since then the FVPLS program has lost status as a stand-alone program, the basis on which it has operated for the last 16 years.

“We would expect a move to the department of a Prime Minister who claims to champion women and Indigenous people would see special recognition and priority for Indigenous legal help, not moves to downgrade FVPLS from a stand-alone program,” Ms Bond said.

“Indigenous women and children facing family violence require urgent action from the Federal Government, not an attack on the services that provide them with free legal help. They are the real victims of funding cuts to legal help; they are the real victims when vital programs are placed on an increasingly precarious footing,” Ms Bond said.

“We call on the Federal Government to fund the Family Violence Prevention Legal Services program to match its stated commitment to Indigenous people.

“The government should also heed the findings of the recently published Review of the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services, which included Indigenous people within the disadvantaged groups that should be targeted as a priority for legal assistance,” Ms Bond concluded.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 31 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of violence and 15 times more likely to seek support from homelessness services to escape family violence, according to the National FVPLS Forum.

Background

New threat for Family Violence Prevention Legal Services (National FVPLS Forum media release, PDF)

NACLC strongly supports calls by National FVPLS Forum for reinstatement of direct funding (NACLC media release)

ALAF statement of support — Continuation of direct funding for the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services (FVPLS) program (ALAF media release)

Review of National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services

Download this media release (PDF)

To arrange an interview

Darren Lewin-Hill on 0488 773 535

Released review shows legal services need funding boost, not Federal Budget cuts or further “efficiencies”

A recently released review by independent consultants has identified the need for a funding boost to meet the legal needs of disadvantaged Australians. The review strengthens the case for the current Productivity Commission Inquiry into Access to Justice Arrangements to recommend a funding increase when it publishes its final report in September.

The Review of the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services by the Allen Consulting Group (NPA Review), commissioned by the Federal Government, also undermines the basis of significant cuts imposed on community legal centres and other free legal assistance services through MYEFO and the May Federal Budget.

“The evidence is clear that a substantial funding boost is what community legal centres need, not the cuts we have seen or further efficiencies to redirect inadequate funding in the current system. Cuts and the search for ‘efficiencies’ are putting legal help for ordinary people further out of reach when they have no other options and can’t afford a private lawyer,” said Community Law Australia national spokesperson, Carolyn Bond, today.

The NPA Review noted specific service shortages for people with a mental illness, people with a disability and people experiencing homelessness; and service gaps for legal problems such as employment, equal opportunity and discrimination law, migration and refugee law and guardianship law.

“Community legal centres are struggling to meet demand, so it is no surprise to us that resources are inadequate,” Ms Bond said.

“We see first-hand how, if these problems aren’t addressed, they can escalate and lead to further problems such as poor health and homelessness. This means there is a high social and financial cost if legal problems aren’t addressed early.

“The report findings support our calls for increased resources for community legal centres – and the legal assistance sector as a whole. While the Government recently announced some small one-off grants, these are far outweighed by the cuts announced for 2015 and beyond. The Budget papers showed the Government plans to cut over 25 per cent of annual federal CLC funding by 2017–18,” Ms Bond said.

She said there would need to be broad consultation with, and participation, by all legal assistance providers (including community legal centres) about some of the system reforms proposed by the report, including clearer specification of service eligibility and streamlining of services.

However, she welcomed the report’s note of caution on the question of contracting out services and adopting systems from overseas, which the report said could be more expensive, and provide less “holistic” services than in Australia. The report found that Australia’s per capita spend on legal assistance was much lower than in countries such as the UK, where contracting out of services occurs.

“The NPA Review offers important insights into the funding of legal assistance services, and we are pleased that it has been made available to inform the public debate around these vital issues, including the current Productivity Commission inquiry,” Ms Bond concluded.

Australia’s 200 community legal centres give free legal help on issues such as employment, family violence, tenancy, discrimination, and debts.

Background

Economic cost benefit analysis of community legal centres

Download this media release (PDF)

To arrange an interview

Darren Lewin-Hill on 0488 773 535

Budget cuts to free legal help hit vulnerable and isolated Victorians

Vulnerable people in outer-suburban and regional Victoria are less likely to get the legal help they need as Federal Government cuts to community legal centres roll out nationally.

“As the human impact of these cuts emerges, it’s becoming clear that they’re hitting vulnerable and isolated Victorians, people who are already missing out and who need help the most,” said Carolyn Bond AO, national spokesperson for Community Law Australia, today.

In addition to $19.6 million cuts to community legal centres nationally, announced last December, there was an additional $6 million cut in the recent Federal Budget. Ms Bond said that despite the Federal Government’s claims that the cuts would not hit frontline services, this was exactly what was happening.

“Victorian community legal centres will either need to reduce the number of lawyers available to help people, turn away more people seeking help, limit the range of problems they can address, or restrict the regional areas they can cover,” Ms Bond said.

Two of the fourteen affected organisations are in regional Victoria, seven in the outer suburbs of Melbourne, and three are statewide specialist legal services.

Services likely to be affected by the cuts include:

• Family violence lawyers helping people with intervention orders;
• Specialist legal advice for regional and remote young people;
• Legal help across high-need, complex, and culturally diverse regional areas.

Lisa Maree Stevens of the Murray Mallee Community Legal Centre, said funding cuts would likely mean that 80–100 vulnerable clients, including Aboriginal women, would miss out on legal help each year if the centre had to cut back on its intervention order assistance and outreach.

“We cover a large geographic area, and our lawyers visit a number of disadvantaged communities, as well as a number of regional courts. When we have to cut back these services next year, there are no other services to pick up this vital work,” Ms Stevens said today.

Ariel Couchman from Youthlaw said their Skype program had been very successful, delivering legal help to young people who couldn’t physically get to services in the big towns and cities.

“The disadvantaged young people we help are facing very tough times in regional and remote Victoria. They are often reluctant to seek help even with homelessness and other serious social problems. Even fewer will do so if our Skype legal advice service is reduced as a result of these cuts,” Ms Couchman said.

Peter Noble from the Goulburn Valley Community Legal Centre said the centre was likely to lose one of its three lawyers, who provide legal help across northern central Victoria stretching from Seymour to the Murray River, including the City of Greater Shepparton, one of Australia’s most complex, needy and culturally rich communities.

“We work with other local services to help people address underlying problems, prevent further legal issues arising, and relieve pressure on the courts and legal system. The disadvantaged people we help are usually not equipped to deal with their legal problems on their own, but funding cuts will mean that some of these people will miss out,” Mr Noble said.

Michael Smith from the Eastern Community Legal Centre said funding cuts placed their new services in the Yarra Ranges, and their family violence work, at serious risk. He said both these services had been provided in response to areas of high legal need.

“Without funding, our services must be reduced and people in need will miss out,” Mr Smith said.

“Even before these damaging cuts, community legal centres were already grossly underfunded and struggled to meet increasing demand for help with serious legal problems from people unable to afford a private lawyer. These cuts will only make that situation worse,” Ms Bond said.

“We know that community legal centres are already very efficient in the help they provide, and that nationally at least 500,000 Australians miss out on legal help every year. The answer is funding community legal centres properly to meet increasing need, not cutting their funding,” Ms Bond said.

Further information

Brandis ties NGO funding to non-advocacy

Brandis restrictions starting tomorrow seek to silence community legal centres speaking out on unfair laws, policies and practices

Last chance to be heard for law services, fighting to protect the most vulnerable

Advocacy and frontline services vital to achieve access to justice

Federal budget cuts to community legal centres in the news

Economic benefit of community legal centres strong, says cost benefit analysis

Community legal centres accuse Federal Government of gagging

Download this media release (PDF)

To arrange an interview

Darren Lewin-Hill on 0488 773 535

Budget cuts place free legal help further out of reach for South Australians

People in South Australia are less likely to get the legal help they need, as the Federal Government continues to cut funds to community legal centres.

In addition to $19.6 million cuts to community legal centres nationally, announced last December, there was an additional $6 million cut in the recent Federal Budget.

“The Federal Government says ‘frontline legal services will not be affected’ but these funds currently support significant frontline services,” said Carolyn Bond AO, national spokesperson for Community Law Australia, today.

“South Australian community legal centres will either need to reduce the number of lawyers available to help people, turn away more people seeking help, limit the range of problems they can address, or restrict the regional areas they can cover,” Ms Bond said.

The kinds of impacts these cuts could have include:

  • Thousands of women experiencing family violence denied free legal help;
  • People who want to challenge a decision that affects their income may not be able to get free legal help, particularly those in some regional areas;
  • People who can’t afford a private lawyer for family law, tenancy or debt issues may be turned away by free services, or may need to travel hundreds of kilometres to find help.

Zita Ngor from the Women’s Legal Service SA said the service gave legal help and advice to thousands of women each year.

“We fear we could lose up to half of our funding, which would not only impact on women experiencing family violence who would be turned away, but on their families, on the courts, and on community and health services,” she said.

Mark Leahy from the Welfare Rights Centre SA, which helps people with Centrelink problems, said that for many of their clients, being able to deal with a dispute with Centrelink can significantly impact on a family’s financial security.

“With the funding cuts proposed, we may have no option than to reduce our work in areas such as Cardinia and Port Augusta, where there is high demand and nowhere else for people to turn,” he said.

“Even before these damaging cuts, community legal centres were already grossly underfunded and struggled to meet increasing demand for help with serious legal problems from people unable to afford a private lawyer. These cuts will only make that situation worse,” Ms Bond said.

“We know that community legal centres are already very efficient in the help they provide, and that nationally at least 500,000 Australians miss out on legal help every year. The answer is funding community legal centres properly to meet increasing need, not cutting their funding,” she said.

Alan Merritt from the South Australian Council of Community Legal Services said the State Government provided some funds to community legal centres, and state funding for a new Consumer Credit Legal Service was good news for South Australia. However, with the level of demand for help, a greater commitment was needed from Federal and State governments – not a reduction in Federal funding.

Community legal centres give free legal help to disadvantaged Australians experiencing relationship breakdown, workplace mistreatment, family violence, debt, eviction, homelessness and other legal problems that severely impact their lives. They address the growing gap between people who qualify for legal aid, and those who can afford a private lawyer.

As well as these cuts, the Government has stopped centres doing any policy or law reform work with their funding.

“While it’s a small part of their overall work, community legal centres are in a position to identify repeat problems based on the experiences of their clients to bring about changes that prevent problems in the first place,” Ms Bond concluded.

Further information

Federal budget cuts to community legal centres in the news

Economic benefit of community legal centres strong, says cost benefit analysis

Community legal centres accuse Federal Government of gagging

Last chance to be heard for law services, fighting to protect the most vulnerable

Brandis restrictions starting tomorrow seek to silence community legal centres speaking out on unfair laws, policies and practices

Advocacy and frontline services vital to achieve access to justice

Download this media release (PDF)

To arrange an interview

Darren Lewin-Hill on 0488 773 535

Budget cuts place free legal help further out of reach for Queenslanders

People in Queensland are less likely to get the legal help they need, as the Federal Government continues to cut funds to community legal centres.

In addition to $19.6 million cuts to community legal centres nationally, announced last December, there was an additional $6 million cut in the recent Federal Budget.

“The Federal Government says ‘frontline legal services will not be affected’ but these funds currently support significant frontline services,” said Carolyn Bond AO, national spokesperson for Community Law Australia, today.

“Queensland community legal centres will either need to reduce the number of lawyers available to help people, turn away more people seeking help, limit the range of problems they can address, or restrict the regional areas they can cover,” Ms Bond said.

Six of the affected organisations are in regional Queensland, three in outer suburbs of Brisbane, and two are statewide specialist legal services.

“Regional Queenslanders will be most affected by these cuts,” Ms Bond said.

The types of services that could be affected include:

  • specialist legal services for tenants facing eviction across Queensland;
  • specialist family law outreach services in Coomera;
  • general legal help for the Inala community;
  • family law services on the Sunshine Coast and in Townsville, helping people when their relationships end;
  • statewide legal help for people who have disputes with Centrelink; and
  • legal help with family violence applications at Southport Magistrates’ Court.

“Even before these damaging cuts, community legal centres were already grossly underfunded and struggled to meet increasing demand for help with serious legal problems from people unable to afford a private lawyer. These cuts will only make that situation worse,” Ms Bond said.

“We know that community legal centres are already very efficient in the help they provide, and that nationally at least 500,000 Australians miss out on legal help every year. The answer is funding community legal centres properly to meet increasing need, not cutting their funding,” Ms Bond said.

Community legal centres give free legal help to disadvantaged Australians experiencing relationship breakdown, workplace mistreatment, family violence, debt, eviction, homelessness and other legal problems that severely impact their lives. They address the growing gap between people who qualify for legal aid, and those who can afford a private lawyer.

As well as these cuts, the Government has stopped centres doing any policy or law reform work with their funding.

“While it’s a small part of their overall work, community legal centres are in a position to identify repeat problems based on the experiences of their clients to bring about changes that prevent problems in the first place,” Ms Bond concluded.

Further information

Federal budget cuts to community legal centres in the news

Economic benefit of community legal centres strong, says cost benefit analysis

Community legal centres accuse Federal Government of gagging

Last chance to be heard for law services, fighting to protect the most vulnerable

Brandis restrictions starting tomorrow seek to silence community legal centres speaking out on unfair laws, policies and practices

Advocacy and frontline services vital to achieve access to justice

Download this media release (PDF)

To arrange an interview

Darren Lewin-Hill on 0488 773 535