Community legal centres struggling to cope with rising demand

The National Census of Community Legal Centres showed almost 170,000 people were turned away from community legal centres last year, with 75 per cent of those being turned way due to a lack of financial resources.


Of those who did access legal services 15 per cent were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders, and 26 per cent came from a multicultural background.

For Karen refugee, Labah Mooree, having access to legal advice through a legal centre outreach program has had a significant impact on his life.

He was working as a cleaner and being underpaid, but it wasn’t until he had access to legal information provided in Karen that he had the confidence to raise the issue with his employer.Labah Mooree was able to recover lost wages after getting legal advice. SBS

“Sometimes [hours I worked on the] weekend or other hours went missing,” Mr Mooree told SBS World News through a translator.

“I know that due to the language barriers that was the cause of the problem. I didn’t know about the problem before, but I knew it was continuing,” he said.


However many others like Mr Mooree aren’t accessing the support they need.

National Association for Legal Centres CEO Nassim Arrage said that the number of people being turned away last year had increased by 6 per cent from the previous year due to a rising demand for services.

“Often these are people who are vulnerable, who don’t speak English, are homeless or have a mental health condition. When we’re not able to help them they’ve got nowhere else to go,” Mr Arrage told SBS World News.

National Association for Legal Centres CEO Nassim Arrage says those turned away are the most vulnerable. SBS

At West Justice, a community legal service in Melbourne’s outer western suburbs, having to turn clients away is an all too familiar experience.

“We know there are hundreds and hundreds of people who would like us to give not just advice, but actual case work, and we just don’t have the resources to do that,” CEO Denis Nelthorpe said.

He says many newly arrived migrant communities don’t seek out legal support because they aren’t aware of their rights.West Justice CEO Denis Nelthorpe says around half of their clients are newly arrived migrants.SBS

“There are very low levels of understanding partly because the laws are so different from the countries they came from,” Mr Nelthorpe said. 

“But also because the way in which you get that information in this country is by ringing telephone lines… and that’s pretty difficult if you have English as a second language,” he added.

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