73 per cent of legal services unable to meet demand: system at crisis point

Community Law Australia today called on Federal and State governments to address extreme funding shortages to community legal centres or see the crisis in access to legal help worsen.

With new data out today from the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) revealing that 73% of legal services reported difficulties in meeting demand, community legal centres are under pressure.

Campaign Chair Michael Smith said that the levels of unmet demand and lack of access to justice should act as a wake-up call to governments.

“Unless governments of all levels act to increase funding to community legal centres, more and more people will miss out on access to quality free legal help,” said Mr Smith.

“Levels of unmet demand have skyrocketed, and we are seeing State governments around the country making cuts that will actually exacerbate, rather than improve the situation.

“It doesn’t take much – a dodgy landlord, a family breakdown, debts from avaricious lenders, unfair dismissal – for people to find themselves in need of quality free legal advice.

“The ACOSS survey confirms housing and homelessness is one of the highest need areas, and yet we’ve recently seen the withdrawal of funding from 23 organisations in Queensland providing Tenancy Advice and Advocacy Services (TAAS, campaign website) as well as major cuts to the Social Housing Advocacy and Support program (SHASP, campaign website) in Victoria.

“Community legal centres help deal with issues of tenancy, family violence, debt or other problems, and are often the vital resource that prevents people from becoming homeless through simple but crucial legal solutions.

Community legal centres reported:

  • unmet demand
  • underfunding
  • restricted services to clients
  • increasing waiting lists
  • forced to turn away 12% of people

“The Australia Institute conservatively estimates that half a million Australians miss out on legal help each year. However with 73 per cent of legal services recording unmet demand, our concern is that this figure is in actual fact much higher.

“Every Australian deserves access to legal help, regardless of their income or social situation. Without properly resourced legal facilities, justice is denied,” said Mr Smith.

Download this media release (PDF)