ACT News


Specialist Canberra legal service helping family violence victims, disabled could shut its doors in months

A specialist legal and social work service that helps some of Canberra's most vulnerable avoid evictions, including those fleeing family violence, could be forced to shut its doors by July.

The free service has been run by Canberra Community Law since 2014, helping residents with disabilities, indigenous Canberrans and those experiencing family violence facing eviction and homelessness.

While it has been funded by philanthropic foundations since July 2014, those grants from the Snow Foundation and Clayton Utz Foundation are set to end in July this year, leaving the law centre without money to keep it running.

Law centre executive director Genevieve Bolton said the service, called the socio-legal practice clinic (SLP), was the first of its kind in the ACT - bringing a social worker and lawyer in to work "hand-in-hand" with highly vulnerable people facing complex legal and social situations.

"The majority of clients are facing eviction proceedings often as a result of coming into rental arrears, property condition issues and neighbourhood issues," she said.

"But in order to maximise their prospects of people actually achieving sustainable housing, we understood we had to help unpack some of the underlying issues that were actually leading to the legal problems."


Of the 79 clients it helped last financial year, 77 per cent had a disability; 87 per cent had Centrelink payments as their main source of income and 60 per cent reported facing issues of family violence.

A possible indicator of the complexity of the work the clinic handles was the 105 actual cases it managed for those 79 clients, with several needing help with more than one legal issue.

Ms Bolton said the law centre wanted to ensure the clinic was achieving its aims, and had commissioned two "independent, external reviews" of the SLP clinic in the years since its inception.

"The independent external evaluation of the [initial] project found it led to more sustainable outcomes," she said.

"From the clients feedback to those reviews, it showed it was not only addressing their legal needs abut was providing vital support to help them address their social needs."

While Ms Bolton said the centre had urged the territory government to fund the $90,000 a year it cost to keep the clinic running, in a submission to this year's ACT budget.

She said for many clients, the clinic had "often meant the difference between being evicted or accessing public housing in a timely way".

"We've done the hard yards in terms of developing the program, we've been able to attract philanthropic funding, and we're had two independent evaluations which found it be highly effective," she said.

"Having seen the results and value that the program provides, we're now asking the ACT government to come and support this level of intensive assistance for some of the community most vulnerable people."

The government has previously said it does not comment on budget deliberations.