Local community legal centres are likely to see disability matters spike over the next year as DisabilityCare rolls out in the launch site of Barwon Region.
Geelong-based providers such as Villamanta Disability Rights Legal Service Inc, and Barwon Community Legal Service will be impacted not just by an increase in clients, but by non-legal disability advocacy agencies in the area that might require legal advice.
Community Law Australia campaign spokesperson Carolyn Bond said that the overhaul of the disability sector through the National Disability Insurance Scheme, or DisabilityCare, would most likely result in emerging issues around eligibility and participation.
“DisabilityCare is a vital reform, which will make a big difference to the lives of many people. However, people with a disability are already twice as likely to experience legal problems. This means they are already a high-risk group – and we are expecting to see even more clients seeking free legal help to engage with the DisabilityCare system.
“Targeting funding to CLCs in areas where DisabilityCare is being rolled out is vital to ensure that community legal centres can meet demand and that people who need support can properly access the system.
“DisabilityCare, like any insurance or benefit scheme has rules around eligibility and these can sometimes be technical and confusing. It’s vital that people with a disability can get free quality legal advice to ensure they don’t miss out on the support they are entitled to,” Ms Bond said.
Barwon CLS Executive Officer Nick Hudson said that the centre was already seeing a high volume of clients who identified as living with a disability – about a third.
“Given that Geelong is one of the launch sites for DisabilityCare, our concern is that we are going to see a major influx in clients with these legal needs and potentially not have the resources to meet the increase in demand.
“Some clients engaging with DisabilityCare will require legal advice, particularly in cases where eligibility and proof issues are complex.
“With changes to disability pensions and support schemes in the past, we have seen clients who have difficulties understanding their rights or explaining their situation clearly to prove eligibility.
“Our concern is that people living with a disability may be further marginalised in terms of accessing their legal rights,” Mr Hudson said.
CLA Spokesperson Carolyn Bond said that making sure people with a disability could access justice was an important consideration as the DisabilityCare reforms take place around the country.
“Like other insurance schemes, the rapid expansion of service providers may also mean that people with a disability become vulnerable to opportunistic organisations that may seek to take advantage,” Ms Bond said.