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In the closing stages of 2019 in the shadows of a new year, a new idea was emerging within the offices of the Peninsula Community Legal Centre (PCLC). The Centre’s CEO Jackie Galloway and her team were about to embark upon an ambitious new Street law project that envisaged taking legal services from the office onto the streets of Frankston and the Mornington Peninsula. Fast forward two years and the Street Law project continues its mission despite the impact of COVID restrictions and will be back on the road delivering free legal services, free coffee and material aid at the end of October.

The distinctive element of the Street Law project is that its philosophy is diametrically opposed to the high costs and exclusivity sometimes associated with private legal practice which can deter people from seeking help. It strives to deliver legal services at a time and place of need, reaching out to members of the community whilst seeking nothing in return. Clients appreciate the warm down to earth service where no suits or ties exist, just a smile, a warm ‘cuppa’ and advice if needed. Providing clients with the opportunity to discuss their legal issues in this environment is extremely comforting to them given that apart from needing legal assistance many of our clients have urgent material needs.

It has been very rewarding to work for the Street Law project,” said Joe Oliver, the project’s “Street Lawyer”. “ I consider the service to be a matter of principle, more akin to a duty of care rather than an occupation performed solely for remuneration. The project provides a vital service that is becoming increasingly relevant and necessary as there is an increasing need for community legal services.”

Recent studies suggest that material inequality is now higher than it has been in decades. The COVID experience has exacerbated this inequality which has led to both higher percentages of people with financial and legal problems and a higher number of people that cannot afford to pay for a lawyer.

We aim to provide clients with a holistic service that includes refreshments, legal health checks, advice and referrals,” said Mr Oliver. “Usually legal advice can be given on the spot and the issues resolved, otherwise the case can be referred to our specialist legal team for follow up. We are also fortunate in that we have a community worker as part of the team who can provide connections to local non-legal services for help with issues such as housing and a wide array of social issues. Both the barista and community worker spend much of their day listening to and assisting community members. The communities that we have visited have been wonderful hosts.”

These include the townships of Frankston, Hastings, Rosebud, Dromana, Crib Point, Mornington and Somerville. Our hosts provide a space to set up the van for coffee and a room for legal services creating a professional environment.

The importance of the Street Law outreach model is highlighted by the fact that many Street Law clients lack necessary means of transportation and would genuinely struggle to get legal assistance if it were not for the visiting Street Law service. In fact, many clients do not even know that they have a legal issue until they speak with the street lawyer. For instance, a client may have a fine issued from Fines Victoria but may not identify the issue as a potential legal problem.

We anticipate that Street law will be busy as ever when the current restrictions are fully lifted”, Mr Oliver said. “The large numbers of people who need legal assistance but cannot afford a lawyer has steadily increased with the financial fallout from COVID. We have also been assisting people who have never before had to use free legal services, as well as an increasing number of people who need material aid.  Clients are often waiting for the van’s services upon our arrival, lining up while we set up.”

The project is funded by Gandel Philanthropy and The Jack Brockhoff Foundation, but this funding will finish at the end of the year. As the project is reliant on the generous philanthropy of funding agencies in order to remain active, the team at PCLC is hopeful that new donors will be found so that their mission will be able to continue.

Anyone needing free confidential legal advice or wanting to find out the Street Law Coffee Van’s schedule can contact the Peninsula Community Legal Centre on 9783 3600 or visit www.pclc.org.au for more information.

 

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DATE: 14 OCTOBER 2021

CONTACT:
Kirsten Young
Community Engagement Officer
PENINSULA COMMUNITY LEGAL CENTRE INC.

T 9783 3600
kyoung@pclc.org.au

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A decision in the Victorian Civil & Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) earlier this month has tenant advocates in our region concerned that a large number of renters will face homelessness now that the moratorium on evictions has ended.

At the height of the COVID-19 crisis last year, the Andrews Government introduced a raft of emergency measures to provide renters with additional protections. This included protection against eviction where renters were unable to pay their rent due to the ongoing pandemic.

Such measures proved crucial not only to ensuring renters were able to keep a roof above their heads but also in the overall strategy to reduce the spread of the virus by limiting peoples’ movement. However, these protections were repealed in late March this year, leaving many renters still unable to return to work due to rolling lockdowns at risk of homelessness.

“The protections may have gone away, but the virus has not,” said Jackie Galloway, CEO of Peninsula Community Legal Centre. “This leaves families in our area quite vulnerable to eviction where rent has gone unpaid due to a drop in income. It also comes at a time when rental providers are increasing rents, especially on the Peninsula, as people flee the city in the wake of COVID-19.”

Peninsula Community Legal Centre (PCLC) operates its Tenancy Assistance and Advocacy Program (TAAP) where staff are seeing an increase in rent-related debts. “In the past it was unusual to see rent arrears accrue beyond a couple of thousand dollars,” said Ms Galloway. “Now we are increasingly seeing renters with arrears of over ten thousand dollars. Many people have limited means to pay their rent and nowhere to go as rents are rising and housing is being snapped up by the sea changers.”

PCLC has continued to operate throughout the COVID-19 crisis and has assisted many renters negotiate rent reductions with their landlords in the hope they would have avoided disaster. However, with the crisis still unfolding renters require ongoing protection.

“With every lockdown comes the very real fear of how to pay your rent. There is no longer a mechanism to get rents reduced, and the Rental Relief Grant is no longer available. With VCAT now saying that renters can be evicted for rent arrears accrued during last year’s lockdowns, renters are at a heightened risk of homelessness with little means to repay their debt.”

Renters are reminded that they cannot be evicted from their homes without an order from the Tribunal. If anyone receives a Notice to Vacate for rent arrears or any other reason, they are urged to contact PCLC for advice.

PCLC remains committed to assisting our community. We are here to help and continue to offer services by telephone. Its dedicated staff are still available to advise, assist and attend VCAT hearings with renters. PCLC can be contacted on 9783 3600.

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DATE: 19 AUGUST 2021

CONTACT: Kirsten Young, Community Engagement Officer
9783 3600 kyoung@pclc.org.au
clc.org.au

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We know that many people in our community are experiencing legal problems due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our community engagement officer Kirsten Young spoke to 3CR 855am’s Done by Law podcast about the common legal issues our clients have been facing as a result of COVID-19, including family violence, parenting arrangements and family law issues, tenancy and fines. The podcast and its webpage also provide details about where to find reliable legal information responding to COVID-19.

Click here to access the podcast

 

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We know that many people in our community are experiencing legal problems due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our community engagement officer Kirsten Young spoke to 3CR 855am’s Done by Law podcast about the common legal issues our clients have been facing as a result of COVID-19, including family violence, parenting arrangements and family law issues, tenancy and fines. The podcast and its webpage also provide details about where to find reliable legal information responding to COVID-19.

click here to access the podcast

 

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PCLC has welcomed the opportunity to contribute to the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health system. We have made recommendations with the aim to improve the provision of legal assistance to the most disadvantaged and vulnerable client’s in our community. These recommendations are informed by our extensive work with those experiencing psychosocial disability.

With over 50% of our family law clients experiencing family violence, we have seen the detrimental impact that exposure to family violence can have on our client’s mental well- being.

We are hoping our submission will contribute to the Commission’s aim to improve Victoria’s mental health system and enable Victorians to have the best outcomes in relation to mental health care.

To read our full Submission please click here Submission to Royal Commision into Mental Health July 2019

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