Community Legal Centres Turn Away 150,000
16 June 2015 at 11:41 am
Under continuing funding stress, over 150,000 Australians are turned away from Community Legal Centres each year, according to new figures.
The National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) has released its latest National Census Report which reveals the capacity, priorities and trends in the work of Community Legal Centres (CLCs) across Australia.
CLCs are described as the last port of call for people who can’t afford to pay for a private lawyer. Community Legal Centres are independently operating, Not for Profit community organisations that provide free legal and related services to the public, focussing on the disadvantaged and people with special needs.
“The Census shows that over 150,000 of Australia’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable people had to be turned away by CLCs in the previous financial year 2013-2014,” NACLC Chair, Michael Smith said.
“However, the total figure for turnaways is actually much higher than this, as only about 75 per cent of our member centres were able to provide details of their turnaways. It is extremely concerning that so many people who can’t otherwise access the legal system are being turned away.
“The most concerning issue was that two-thirds of centres responding, reported turning clients away due to insufficient resources. Given that CLC’s are often the last resort, options for these clients are very limited,” Smith said.
24 centres (30 per cent of respondents) reported turning away over 1,000 people in the year.
“These are not just statistics, but real people, often highly vulnerable, who cannot receive the help they need. It’s also very difficult for staff and volunteers to have to keep telling people we can’t assist them,” Smith said.
“The Census showed that 13.3 per cent of CLC clients, identified as an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person, and 25.4% identified as a person with disability.
“Given the high level of turnaways, it is vital that all legal assistance providers, including CLCs receive an immediate cash injection of $200 million per year by all levels of government, as recommended by the Productivity Commission.”
The latest Abbott Government Budget delivered in May 2015 revealed Commonwealth funding would drop drastically for CLCs from 2017-18.