Funding Call for Struggling Community Legal Centres
1 July 2013 at 12:21 pm
Community Law Australia has called on Federal and State Governments to address funding shortages to community legal centres to ensure that rising demand is being met.
The call comes as a major report by the Australian Council of Social Services revealed 63% of legal services were unable to meet demand, and 85% were forced to tighten or restrict service levels to meet demand for their services.
Community Legal Centres (CLCs) help people with everyday legal problems like credit and debt, workplace bullying and unfair dismissal, consumer issues, insurance claims and family violence.
Campaign Spokesperson Carolyn Bond said the ACOSS Australian Community Sector Survey put some numbers behind a problem that community legal centres were acutely aware of.
“Access to justice is a major issue in our local communities, when people in need of legal help are being turned away or aren’t sure if they can access a service,” Bond said.
“63% of community legal services are unable to meet demand, and are ranked second highest after housing and homelessness services in terms of demand outweighing capacity.
“67% of community legal services report underfunding, and 59% said they had increased waiting times for services.
”This is not something that community legal centres take lightly – while clients in crisis are always prioritised, it is a heavy burden for community lawyers and other staff to know that there are people in need missing out.
“Survey results like these can only gauge the tip of the iceberg when it comes to access to justice in Australia, which is why we welcome the Productivity Commission’s task of understanding the full extent of the crisis.
“The ACOSS survey is an important litmus test for the community sector, which so often works collaboratively to deliver vital services to those in need. However, across the board we are seeing that insufficient resources are limiting capacity to meet rising demand in the community,” Bond said.
Summary of findings relevant to community legal services:
• 63% of community legal service providers reported not being able to meet demand for services.
• Community legal services ranked second highest behind housing for inability to meet demand.
• 20% of all clients who approached the surveyed community legal services for assistance were turned away in 2011/12, the highest turn-away rate across all service types.
• 85% of community legal services reported having targeted their services more tightly or limiting service levels to meet demand.
• 67% reported being underfunded and 59% said they had increased waiting times for services.
• 76% of services asked staff and volunteers to work additional hours in attempt to meet demand.