Pilot Project flying the legal flag for consumers on the Border

Hume Riverina Community Legal Service (HRCLS) has joined forces with the Consumer Action Law Centre (CALC) to strengthen its approach to dealing with consumer legal issues faced by people on the Border.

HRCLS has entered a partnership with the Victorian-based CALC, along with Barwon Community Legal Service, to work together to identify and address the consumer law, credit law and insurance law needs of clients living in regional and rural Victoria and to provide better access to CALC’s specialist knowledge.

HRCLS principal lawyer Sarah Rodgers said the six-month project allowed HRCLS to play a part in the Federation of CLCs’ ongoing campaign to increase access to justice for people and has assisted the service’s lawyers identify consumer problems and help people, particularly those who have been misled and face crushing debt and repayment issues.

“We see a lot of people who are affected by family violence, or suffering disability, mental illness or homelessness” Ms Rodgers said. “Frequently these are people who also find themselves in debt through unfair loans or consumer leases and they don’t realise they can get help with these issues. Working with CALC has meant that we are better equipped to help people with all their legal problems and to connect them with specialist legal advice from wherever they are in our region.”

CALC Lawyers Lachlan Edwards, Philippa Heir and Lisa Grealy have visited HRCLS over the past few months to train staff and establish clear referral pathways to CALC’s expertise. Jesse Marshall was in the region last week and was able to provide community worker training in Wangaratta on Thursday 28, June alongside HRCLS lawyers Deb Fisher and Jodie Wells. The topics discussed were Fines, Family Law and Consumer Issues; three common, everyday legal problems. It is hoped that the more community workers are informed about the law in these areas and the services that are available to assist, the earlier people will be referred for the help they need.

Ms Rodgers said HRCLS would also use the opportunity of working with CALC to learn more about running law reform campaigns to target inconsistencies in the law and advocate for positive change. “CALC is a leader in the sector for highlighting legal issues and getting results, and we want to increase our law reform effort,” she said. “Identifying potential law reform areas and calling on Governments to make changes to the law stops people getting entangled in the law system in the first place. This reduction in the number of people getting in trouble with the law and their issues exacerbating is a win-win situation.”

This work has been undertaken within the framework of a broader project led by the Federation of Community Legal Centres, to improve the interaction between the 24 generalist and 25 specialist Community Legal Centres (CLCs) across Victoria. The Project is funded and supported through Victoria Legal Aid’s Community Legal Centre Innovation and Transformation Fund.

Elderly citizens have rights and deserve to feel safe in our community

Local service providers are encouraging the community to speak up if they see elder abuse occurring. World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is on Friday 15 June, and with the World Health Organisation believing elder abuse is under-reported, it is important for people to report when an elderly person has been harmed in some way.

Hume Riverina Community Legal Service senior lawyer Karen Keegan said Elder Abuse was a highly complicated issue but everyone has rights regardless of age.

“Just because you get old, doesn’t mean you become a second-class citizen and have less legal rights,” Ms Keegan said. “The elderly deserve to be respected and the more that can be done to encourage people who experience elder abuse to speak up, the better, because it’s common for people not to talk about their experience because they fear further abuse.”

Along with the shame of the experience, people can feel helpless in their situation due to the common dynamic of the relationship between victim and abuser.

HRCLS senior lawyer Karen Keegan with Albury Wodonga health Older Persons Mental Health Services OD Grace Churches after the Elder Abuse information session.

“When it occurs, it can be very distressing for victims, as it is often family members, a close friend or a trusted carer who are doing the abuse,” Ms Keegan said. “Often the victim relies on the abuser for care, for support, for transport, or because they have no one else who will help them.”

Service workers play a vital role in identifying elder abuse, and given the complex nature of how it can present, it is important they understand some of the ways elder abuse can be reduced. Ms Keegan recently visited the Albury Wodonga Health Older Person’s Mental Health Service to speak with staff about the need for elderly people to have a Power of Attorney appointed and wishes clearly stated in a Will.

“Having your affairs in order and documents in place helps reduce the risk of elder abuse, particularly around finances,” Ms Keegan said. “Elder abuse is a form of domestic violence and can take many forms. Financial abuse remains at the top of the list. This can be as simple as taking $20 here and there out of Mum’s purse, or a son or a daughter moving back home and making Mum and Dad feel uncomfortable as they overtake the residence.”

Ms Keegan praised service providers such as Albury Wodonga Health for their pro-active approach to identifying elder abuse and acting in the best interests of those people in their care. “We look forward to continuing our partnership with Albury Wodonga Health and seeing the mutual benefits that arise as a result,” Ms Keegan said.

For free legal assistance, phone Hume Riverina Community Legal Service on 1800 918 377.

Funding to help young people clear Invisible legal hurdles on the Border

Victorian Attorney-General Martin Pakula announced $200,000 funding over two years for a Hume Riverina Community Legal Service (HRCLS) integrated justice partnership on 1 June 2018. This funding will be used to continue the Invisible Hurdles project, involving the Wodonga Flexible Learning Centre, the Albury Wodonga Aboriginal Health Service (AWAHS) and Wangaratta-based NESAY, into the 2018-19 financial year.

HRCLS principal lawyer Sarah Rodgers welcomed the additional funding and thanked the State Government for acknowledging the importance of integrated justice partnerships, particularly those helping young people experiencing family violence.

“We’re excited about continuing this important work with our partners into the future,” Ms Rodgers said. “We know young people will not walk into a lawyer’s office off the street, so being on-site with services who they trust has been crucial for the success of the project.”

“Making a difference for people affected by family violence is a key priority for our service. Young people affected by family violence often have numerous other legal problems, so providing a friendly, accessible, wrap-around service is critical,” she said. “The sooner young people get legal help, the higher the chance of a positive outcome.”

The Victorian Legal Service Board Grants Program funded the Invisible Hurdles project from December 2015 to May 2018. This latest funding has been provided by the Department of Justice and Regulation. Ms Rodgers said the Invisible Hurdles Project Stage 1 final report and evaluation was in the process of being produced, and is expected to be launched in October. Without pre-empting the findings, Ms Rodgers said the health justice partnership had made an impact at various levels.

“We’re proud of how the Invisible Hurdles Project has helped young people understand their legal rights and solved their legal problems,” she said. “Along with our legal assistance, this has been achieved through staff at each service understanding how we work, identifying legal problems, being willing to refer young people and trusting us to act in their best care.”

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