By Dr Greg Ogle, SACOSS
South Australia is the only state without any kind of consumer credit legal service, but that’s about to change.
Last year the South Australian government announced funding for a consumer credit legal service, which will provide free legal help to South Australians with credit legal problems who can’t afford a lawyer. We are now looking forward to announcement of the successful tender.
These specialist services can provide advice and legal help to individuals directly, but can also be a useful resource for financial counsellors and other community workers so they can better help their clients.
Free financial counselling services provide valuable services to people in financial difficulty. A specialist credit legal service can enhance the work of financial counsellors by giving them legal advice, taking on some of the difficult legal cases, and by working as a team where an individual may have a particular legal issue amidst a range of other financial problems.
The scoping study published by the South Australian Council of Social Service (SACOSS) last year demonstrated the level of legal need in this area. Being sued for a debt you don’t owe, stuck with an unfair credit contract, or being unaware of your rights when you’re in financial hardship can have devastating consequences – leading to worsening financial hardship, relationship problems, stress or even homelessness. Help for individuals is important, but a specialist legal service can also be effective in the prevention of problems. We have seen these specialist credit legal services in other states run important cases that confirm that particular industry conduct is illegal, or lead to regulators closing down dodgy lenders.
Some examples of the work done by specialist credit legal services around the country include:
- Representing low income people who have been exploited by high cost “payday” lenders,
- Having disadvantaged guarantors released from debt, thereby saving their home,
- Providing representation in contested ‘financial hardship’ matters,
- Having debts waived, or reduced, in relation to expensive high pressure ‘in-home’ sales.
I look forward to the establishment of this specialist service so that South Australians with credit and debt issues, who can’t afford a lawyer, can get the help they need.
Dr Greg Ogle is a Senior Policy & Research Analyst at the South Australian Council of Social Service