STOP THE CLOSURE OF WELFARE RIGHTS CENTRE SA
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AWARD WINNING SPECIALIST WELFARE RIGHTS CENTRE SA FACING CLOSURE
Welfare Rights Centre SA is a community legal centre which specialises in social security law. The Centre has 30 years of experience and expertise in social security law and Centrelink administration. We provide free legal advice and representation to clients facing Centrelink problems. Our clients are the most vulnerable in our community; including terminally ill clients, systematically abused and significantly mentally ill clients attempting to obtain the Disability Support Payment, young people escaping horrifically violent homes to obtain a payment to afford food and people leaving domestic violence relationships to get payments to start a new life.
We have numerous outreach services in regional areas and the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY lands). These services have been developed over many years. Longstanding relationships which have engendered trust and confidence with local communities have been at the heart of the outreaches’ success. Once gone, the outreaches will be very difficult to re-establish.
WRC also runs our award winning Housing Legal Clinic. This program provides pro-bono legal advice for people who are homeless, at risk of homelessness or are low income earners. This clinic runs in numerous homelessness day centres and emergency assistance centres to help some of the most vulnerable people in our community. We also run highly valued duty solicitor programs at the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (SACAT) and Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Our Duty Solicitor Program at SACAT helps tenants facing housing issues such as evictions, seeking repairs or seeking compensation from a landlord due to the state of the property.
In the 2015-2016 financial year, we provided legal advice to well over 2,000 clients facing Centrelink issues and saw over 500 clients through the Housing Legal Clinic.
Late on Friday afternoon, 26 May, we received the surprising and shocking news that the Welfare Rights Centre SA was unsuccessful in retaining their funding beyond the 30 June 2017.
This level of expertise does not exist anywhere else in South Australia. All this experience will be lost if the closure goes ahead. The inability to get timely access to secure income support is often at the root of other legal needs, including housing, credit and debt and family violence. We have assisted domestic violence victims, vulnerable minors, people with significant disabilities and those facing homelessness.
Welfare Rights Centre SA has been highly effective in harnessing volunteer and private law firm pro bono services to increase its reach and provide legal services to disadvantaged people who would otherwise miss out. However, the Centre cannot run without Government assistance.
WRC has been advised by State Government that the closure will be due to Federal Government cuts, however these cuts have now been reversed and yet WRC is still set to be closed, along with 2 other essential legal services in the State, the South East Community Legal Service and the Riverland Community Legal Service.
We call on the State government to reverse its decision to defund the Welfare Rights Centre SA and restore its funding so that it may continue running at the same capacity.
- Premier of South Australia
- State Attorney-General
State Attorney-General John Rau
I am writing to you with regard to the withdrawal of funding from three essential legal services in South Australia, one of those being the Welfare Rights Centre SA (WRCSA).
Community Legal Centres (CLCs) were facing 30 per cent cuts nationally from 1 July this year. A funding cut of $34.8 million was planned for CLCs over the next three years. CLCs were already underfunded. Statistics show that in 2015, while they helped over 216,000 clients, they reported turning away 159,220 individual people who were seeking their assistance. WRCSA is a CLC that receives only Commonwealth funds to assist persons who have trouble dealing with Centrelink.
On 24 April 2017 Attorney-General George Brandis announced that the cuts would be reversed with $39 million to go to CLCs in the May Budget. While the reduction in Commonwealth funding was reversed, the SA Government has not reallocated the funds to WRCSA.
The WRCSA has provided legal services of an exceptional standard to the community over the past 30 years, and with just four weeks’ notice, has been told that funding has ceased to a major aspect of the service we provide, which may have the consequence of forcing the Centre to close on the 30th June 2017. There has been no details given of what this service will be replaced with, but I have high concerns it will not be in the same capacity as it is currently run.
WRCSA offers an advice service and, if needed, representation to the most disadvantaged persons in SA. Recipients of Centrelink payments are the persons with the least choice and the least power over their circumstances.
WRCSA partners with Adelaide University, Flinders University and University of South Australia to enable volunteer social work and law students on placement with the Centre to provide a service that not only reaches more clients but provides them with invaluable experience. WRCSA hosts the Housing Legal Clinic, a service which helps those at risk of homelessness where the legal work is done through legal firms offering a pro bono law service. WRCSA has built ties with service providers in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands to assist with Centrelink problems affecting the indigenous people.
Self-represented litigants in the Tribunal take up more of the Tribunal’s time to ensure they receive a fair hearing. WRCSA has developed an advice service with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT1). This service assists persons who already have an appeal to the AAT1 with an imminent hearing. WRCSA staff assist the appellant to present their case, advise of the relevant legal points and the special circumstances information that frequently results in a more equitable outcome.
Empowering a client to deal with their own matter is cost-efficient to the community as a whole. Anecdotal evidence from the Centrelink legal team is that the set asides now have better evidence to enable the beneficial outcome.
WRC has been able to assist individuals who are not eligible for legal aid and are not able to represent themselves. As the face-to-face contact/staffing levels of Centrelink decrease, persons with English as a second language, persons with a cognitive disability, and older Australians find the need for assistance face extra difficulties.
I ask that you reverse your decision as the withdrawal of this funding will have devastating effects on the community.
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