More Australians Missing Out on Community Legal Assistance
9 August 2016 at 11:18 am
The latest legal census by the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) has found that as many as 160,000 Australians were turned away from Community Legal Centres (CLCs) in 2014/15 – up by at least 30,000 from the previous census.
The third annual national census was conducted by NACLC as a survey of CLCs across Australia. More than 130 CLCs completed the census using data from the 2014/15 financial year.
NACLC national spokesperson Dan Stubbs told Pro Bono Australia News the results showed a significant increase on the previous census and for the first time the top two issues for people seeking legal assistance were family violence and homelessness.
“We know that CLCs provide free legal help to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of our community. For example, the census tells us that the average proportion of Aboriginal and / or Torres Strait Islander clients was 15.3 per cent and clients with a disability was 26.6 per cent,” Stubbs said.
“CLCs also provide assistance in a range of areas of law, and while family violence and family law have been in the top two areas for a few years (46.0 per cent and 40.3 per cent respectively) we now see that homelessness is in the top three specialist areas or client groups (41.1 per cent).
“What is concerning looking at these results is that 92 CLCs reported turning away 159,220 people and on average only 64.4 per cent of people who were turned away could be given an appropriate, accessible and affordable referral. This means hundreds of thousands of people are missing out on the legal help they need and this number is growing.”
The census results come as CLCs face another 30 per cent cut to Commonwealth funding of $12.1 million from 1 July next year.
“CLCs report that the impact of funding cuts will include a reduction in services and outreach, closure of branch offices and telephone advice lines, and loss of staff,” Stubbs said.
“We are now looking to set up meetings with government and also with cross benchers. We need the cross benchers in both houses to understand the issues and I think there’s a number of senators that will come at this from different perspectives that will have sympathy for large numbers of disadvantaged people trying to access the justice system.
“It is a matter for us to provide that information to the cross benchers and work with them to raise the issue in parliament but also working directly with government. We also recognise that we need to provide a greater level of understanding to the government around the massive difference this amount of funding cut will make. $12 million is not a lot of money in Commonwealth budget terms.”
He said another issue to come out of the census was the increasing amount of time spent by CLCs trying to obtain funding.
“Unfortunately, CLCs are also being forced to spend more and more time on searching for funding to maintain crucial services. The census revealed that 111 CLCs spent 1,500.4 hours per week in 2014/15 financial year on funding-related activities. This means less time is available to provide legal assistance to clients.”
Stubbs said the NACLC has renewed its calls on all levels of government to adequately fund legal assistance services, and the organisation will also approach the new crossbenchers in federal parliament about the funding issues.