The Federal Government has found $25m to reverse cuts to legal assistance after growing pressure about the likely impact on Indigenous people and victims of domestic violence. “People needing legal help with problems at Centrelink can rest a little easier after the Commonwealth Attorney-General George Brandis announced a reversal of funding cuts that would have meant reduced services at a number of our Centres,” said Maree O’Halloran, President of the National Welfare Rights Network (NWRN) in a statement welcoming the decision.
“It is a welcome relief that funding cuts will not proceed. These cuts would have reduced vital legal services to vulnerable people.
“Welfare Rights centres are community legal centres specialising in social security law and its administration by Centrelink. We advise people of their rights, entitlements and obligations and assist people through the social security review and appeals system.
“Each year, Welfare Rights caseworkers assist thousands of people with Centrelink problems. Welfare Rights services are cost-effective and efficient. NWRN member organisations provide casework assistance to their clients. They conduct training and education for community workers and produce high quality information and publications to help social security recipients and community organisations understand the system.
“Centrelink staff generally do a good job under trying circumstances but mistakes do happen. Continued funding will enable Welfare Rights workers to assist people to get the right Centrelink payment, and to seek redress when things go wrong.
“In 2013-14 Centrelink completed 123,032 internal reviews of decisions which people had appealed against. The decisions most commonly challenged were: rejection of a claim for payment such as the Disability Support Pension; raising or recovery of debts; participation failure; start date of payment, and the rate of payment.
“It is essential that organisations independent of Centrelink are adequately funded to support, assist and represent people when things go wrong.
“In 2014 NWRN commissioned independent qualitative and quantitative research into the services provided by our members. The quantitative research found that NWRN is meeting a gap that is not filled by other legal advice or complaints services.
“We welcome the Government’s support for our services. More funding is needed to address legal need the area of social security. The NWRN Federal Budget Submission makes a number of recommendations for how the Government could improve access to legal services.
“The restoration of funding for Legal Aid, Community Legal Centres and Indigenous legal service providers will help to ensure that some of the most vulnerable groups in the community can access the legal support and assistance to get their lives back on track.
“Restoring this funding will support people needing assistance in New South Wales, South Australia, Canberra Queensland and Western Australia,” concluded Ms O’Halloran.