NSW Community Legal Centres – Funding Review
Tuesday, 13th March 2007 at 3:17 pm
The Federal Government has provided an injection of funds following a review of the NSW Community Legal Centres which found the program struggling to meet the growing demand for services in the community.
The Review found that while there have been allocation increases to the Community Legal Services Program (CLSP) over the past 25 years, these have rarely gone to existing Centres’ central activities, but rather have been used to establish new Centres or new projects in existing Centres.
At times annual CPI increases to the CLSP have been discounted and some costs have risen faster than Centres’ income.
The Review says salary levels are very low in most Centres, as is the proportion of resources allocated to administrative costs and to the efficient use of technology.
It found that almost all Centres are overwhelmed by demand for their services and cannot sustain their current levels of service, nor meet emerging service gaps.
Limited resources mean that most Centres severely curtail the casework services they offer, by applying restrictive guidelines. The consequence is that many of their clients cannot obtain legal advice or assistance in critical areas such as family law, employment law and other civil matters.
Since the Review, the Federal Government has announced a $1million funding boost for a range of information technology and training initiatives to enhance the operation of community legal centres nationally.
The funding will allow for:
– computer upgrades;
– trialling of low cost telecommunications technology;
– investigation of improved arrangements for IT support;
– development of training materials for volunteers and management committee
– members and online training for staff in the use of the program’s data collection system; and
– updating of legal libraries or resources
The Review says that sustainable funding for Centres, while creating a front-end expense, would ultimately save money in other areas of the justice system, and other socio-economic costs to individuals and the community.
It says if additional funding is not forthcoming, governments risk losing their existing investment in the CLSP, as Centres struggle to perform basic functions at the expense of service delivery.
Some of the key recommendations include:
– Establishment of a NSW Legal Assistance Forum
– Adoption of a Strategic Service Delivery Model for the CLSP
– A review to identify the full range of effective service delivery models for regional and remote areas
– Establishment of a Training, Resource and Infrastructure Program (TRIP) to provide centralised support for Centres on a range of issues
– An audit of Centres’ information and communication technology needs and a one-off upgrade of Centres’ computer networks to an agreed standard
– CLSP funding for Centres to provide specialist services targeted at Indigenous people and communities
– An Indigenous Access project
– Investigation of the true level of need for interpreter services in Centres (rec. 35).
– A review by funding bodies of reporting and accountability requirements for Centres
– Specific assistance for Centres on governance issues, including training for boards and management committees on their roles and responsibilities
– A review of pro bono referral systems
The full report can be downloaded at: www.legalaid.nsw.gov.au