Stephany Del Canto
STOP THE CLOSURE OF WELFARE RIGHTS CENTRE SA
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.