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Vulnerable residents in Dunkley at risk from lack of legal funding

February 22, 2024

In the lead-up to the Dunkley byelection, the Frankston-based Peninsula Community Legal Centre (PCLC) is calling on the Federal and State governments to increase funding to community legal centres.

“With so many struggling with the cost of living and housing crises, we are seeing an unprecedented number of people who are buckling under the weight of their legal problems coming to us for help,”said CEO Jackie Galloway. “And just at the time when the community needs us the most, we are facing a funding crisis and cannot meet this unprecedented demand for our services. Both the Federal and State governments need to take action to increase our funding this year or we will be at risk of having to cut programs and staff to address the funding shortfall”.

PCLC provides free legal services across a large catchment of almost 1.8 million people in Melbourne’s south east, with its head office in Frankston. The Centre helps people manage everyday legal problems with their housing, family arrangements, employment, health, finances, and personal safety.  25% of its clients live in the Dunkley electorate, 71% of whom are financially disadvantaged and one third with a disability or mental health issue.

The top legal problem dealt with by PCLC in the seat of Dunkley over the past 6 months was family law, including family violence, which accounted for 55% of PCLC’s work. The number of people requiring assistance from PCLC’s duty lawyers at the Frankston Specialist Family Violence Court is at record levels.

“Our family violence duty lawyer recently represented a woman with a complex series of legal problems who illustrates the kind of client we would no longer be able to assist in the same way without additional funding to continue our services at current levels”, said Ms Galloway. “In this case, our duty lawyer assisted our client to obtain a family violence intervention order against her husband at the Frankston Magistrate’s court. Our lawyers also successfully assisted her with her divorce hearing at the Family Court, as well as a criminal charge for driving while suspended due to accumulated fines, resulting in the charge and fine being withdrawn. Without the support of PCLC’s legal expertise she would have been unlikely to resolve these life-altering problems as successfully, if at all”.

Another critical problem handled by the Centre is housing and tenancy, with a dramatic increase in demand to assist tenants facing housing insecurity who have been served with Notices to Vacate or substantial rent increase notices. Over the past year the Centre’s tenancy program represented renters in 367 VCAT hearings, defending eviction notices and challenging rent increases.  

“The current situation for renters is worse than it has been for a number of generations, with many of our clients becoming increasingly desperate” Ms Galloway said. “More landlords are wanting to remove renters at a time when it is almost impossible to find a new place that they can afford. Other renters are struggling with massive rental hikes during a global cost of living crisis. We have assisted many people who made more than 50 unsuccessful rental applications after receiving a notice to vacate and who were facing the prospect of homelessness”.

PCLC recently represented a single mother with 3 children at VCAT, who had been given a notice to vacate by her landlord in order to renovate the property. The tenant had unsuccessfully applied for 55 properties and had nowhere to go. In weighing up the competing interests of the rental provider and the tenants and the impact of a possession order on each of them, VCAT found that it was not reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances to make the family homeless and the eviction application was dismissed. In other cases the Tribunal has also blocked rent increases.

“As these two examples show, we have been able to help many people struggling with issues such as family violence and rental problems with significant wins,” said Ms. Galloway. ““PCLC assisted over 6,000 clients last year. Our services help to keep people in our community safe and financially secure, and prevent them from ending up on the streets or in women’s refuges or jails. But the law is very complex and it is crucial that people who are facing these common problems are able to access lawyers who can assist them to achieve a fair result.”

Chronic underfunding and inflationary pressures combined with inadequate indexation, and a lack of long-term funding security, mean that community legal centres across the country are at breaking point. Funding shortages and overwhelming demand are forcing centres to turn away over 200,000 people nationally each year, reduce services, and cancel local outreach services and clinics. The people and communities most in need of support bear the brunt of this funding crisis.

“Access to justice should not be based on the size of your wallet”, said Ms Galloway. “Without our services, many in our community would be at risk of continuing exposure to threats such as family violence, homelessness or out of control debt. Community legal centres are facing a national funding crisis. We are calling on the Commonwealth government to increase funding to the sector by $125m per year to ensure that programs and services aren’t forced to close. This is not a huge amount of money when compared to the value our centres provide to our local communities”.

The Peninsula Community Legal Centre provides free legal services across the south-east region of Melbourne.  For a free appointment contact PCLC at (03)9783 3600, email


DATE: 21 February 2024


Kirsten Young


T 9783 3600; m 0428 844 610;


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