Ipswich legal centres under pressure and facing funding cuts
GETTING an appointment with one of Ipswich's two community legal service solicitors almost always means a wait of three or four weeks.
The free centre on South St, run by the Toowoomba-based The Advocacy Service Centre, is among the legal service providers facing major funding cuts from July next year.
Community legal centres and Legal Aid offices in Queensland will lose almost $2 million in Commonwealth funding even as demand for their services are increasing.
The sector in Queensland received about $8.9 million in Commonwealth funding this financial year. It will only receive about $6.9 million next financial year.
TASC chief executive officer Philippa Whitman does not yet know how much funding the service will lose from next July.
"Realistically, we've got to accept the fact that we'll suffer some cut in funding but we'll just try to be innovative in how we deal with that," she says.
The service has already felt some squeeze. Its Ipswich office dropped from five days a week to three days a week in 2014, despite demand for a fully operational office.
Ms Whitman said the average wait time for an appointment at TASC's main office in Toowoomba had been about three weeks since last October.
"That's a very important time frame when you've got people who are victims, who might need to vacate homes, to move children, get domestic violence orders, protect their assets" she says.
"There is a lot that has to be done in that time.
"It's a real gap in service provision."
The National Association of Community Legal Centres fears the change in funding will increase what it has labelled an inequity in access to justice.
The free services of centres like TASC are only available to people who are considered to be financially disadvantaged or who meet other criteria that make it difficult for them to afford private legal advice.
Some of the specific services run by TASC include a senior's legal advice service and a mediation service run weekly. Much of their work is in family law and civil law matters such as consumer complaints.
In one memorable case in Ipswich, solicitors helped an elderly woman being financially and emotionally abused by her daughter.
"She was just afraid to even sit in her own living room," TASC Ipswich Manager Allana Janke says.
"She came to get advice from us and (the daughter) had to move out in the end."
Mrs Janke is one of the two solicitors operating from the Ipswich office. She takes on cases regarding family law, ranging from divorce to applications for domestic violence protection orders.
The Ipswich office runs many services that are unlikely to be seen at a private legal firm.
Four volunteer solicitors help staff a weeknight clinic and Mrs Janke's colleague also runs a form clinic to help people fill out official documents.
"We're not going to be able to help the community if we are reduced even further than what we are now," Mrs Janke said.