Poor funding means too many turned away from free legal help

Community Law Australia today released survey results that reveal the true toll of underfunding on the sector, with 72 per cent of community legal centre workers across the country forced to turn away clients seeking assistance in the last 12 months.

“There is no doubt many Australians in need are missing out on legal help, and the main reason for turning clients away is lack of resources,” campaign spokesperson Hugh de Kretser said today.

“Of further concern is that of the CLC workers who reported having to turn away clients, nearly a quarter reported turning away more than 50 clients in the last 12 months,” he said.

Overall, three quarters of CLC staff said their level of resourcing was inadequate.

In addition, almost a third of CLC workers surveyed said the physical environment at their CLC was inadequate or very inadequate.

The top three problems with CLC premises include: insufficient space and overcrowding (52 per cent), insufficient confidential interview rooms (49 per cent), and difficulties with computers and IT (49 per cent).

“For CLC workers, the two biggest issues were identified as inadequate budget to meet local community needs (75 per cent) and staff workload (61 per cent),” de Kretser said.

“In spite of these challenges, CLC staff deliver around half a million services to Australians needing legal help each year, assisted by around 6,000 volunteers in addition to law firm pro bono contributions. Imagine what we could achieve for access to justice with proper funding?

“We renew calls to State and Federal governments to increase access to free legal help in this country. Unless we have a properly resourced system for free legal help, people in need will continue to fall through the cracks,” de Kretser concluded.

Survey results at a glance:

  • 72 per cent of total staff surveyed have turned away clients that sought assistance from their CLC in the last 12 months, with 85% of lawyers turning away clients.
  • Of those who have turned away clients in the last 12 months, 24 per cent have had to turn away 50 or more new clients.
  • 75 per cent of CLC staff said that their level of resourcing was inadequate and nearly one-third cite their work environment as inadequate for themselves and their clients.
  • The most frequently identified problems with CLC premises are:
    – Insufficient space and overcrowding (52 per cent)
    – Insufficient confidential interview rooms (49 per cent)
    – Difficulties with computers and IT (45 per cent)
    – Disability access to the centres (28 per cent)
  • 91 per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed that funding adequately addresses the levels of demand for legal service at their CLC.
  • 99 per cent of CLC staff would fund extra staff to cover workload if extra funding was available.

Hard to Help: Impacts of underfunding on community legal centres helping ordinary Australians to access justice is available to download (PDF).

Download this media release (PDF).