169,513 Turned Away from Community Legal Centres

By Andrew Heaton

(image via Canberra Community Law)

Almost 170,000 people were turned away from community legal centres CLCs throughout 2015/16 as the sector struggles with ongoing resourcing issues, according to the latest report.

Unveiling the results of its 2016 National Report, the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLCs) said CLCs were forced to turn away 169,513 people throughout 2015/16.

According to the report – a Census based on responses from 129 centres – reasons for turnaways included conflicts of interest, lack of resources or mismatches between the nature of the person’s problem and the priority area or client group covered by the centre in question.

Of the 99 centres that responded to a question about prevalent reasons for turnaways, 79 reported conflicts of interests whilst 74 reported insufficient resources and 73 reported the person’s issue being outside of their priority area or client base.

Concerningly, 32 percent of people who were turned away were not able to be provided with an affordable referral.

Operating on a not-for-profit basis, CLCs provide free legal and related services to those who have disadvantages or special needs.

Whilst the sector breathed a sigh of relief in April after the Federal Government abandoned plans for funding cuts to the tune of 30 percent, concern remains over the lack of sustainable and predictable funding over the longer term.

Such concerns are particularly prevalent amid an environment in which demand from a growing migrant population is on the rise.

All up, 100 of the 129 centres who responded (or 82 percent) reported that they received funding from the federal government.

NACLC Chief Executive Officer Nassim Arrage said the consequences of people being turned away should not be underestimated.

“Often, these are people who are vulnerable, who don’t speak English, are homeless, have a disability or a mental health condition,” Arrage told SBS.

“When we are not able to help them, they’ve got nowhere else to go.”

Of those who were helped by CLCs, 15 percent were of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent whilst 26 percent come from a multi-cultural background.

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