The University of Newcastle, Australia

Free legal clinic to support community’s vulnerable older people

Friday, 15 November 2019

Some of the most vulnerable people in our society – older people – are benefiting from a new free community legal service established by Newcastle Law School in Newcastle and Gosford.

The Older Persons Legal Clinic, awarded a three-year $696,000 State Government grant, will focus on increasing access to justice for older people, improving legal outcomes, and reducing the load of legal work on Government and community-based free legal services.

Two recent government inquiries into elder abuse, conducted by the NSW and Australian Governments, identified a significant need to enhance legal practitioners’ skills in the prevention of and responses to financial abuse. The inquiries also found limited access to legal services contributed to the vulnerability of older people.

The Older Persons Legal Clinic is co-located with the University of Newcastle Legal Centre in the Newcastle CBD and offers a ‘pop up’ clinic on the Central Coast within the Australian Taxation Office in Gosford’s CBD one day a week.

Legal education for older people, health services and the legal profession form a key part of the new clinic.

Director of the University of Newcastle Legal Centre, Mr Shaun McCarthy, said a significant source of disempowerment for older people was the isolation and physical restrictions they faced.

“Older people have particular legal needs and the Older Persons Legal Clinic will offer legal advice, representation and community education,” Mr McCarthy said.

“The clinic supports older people with matters such as wills, powers of attorney, enduring guardianship, mental health law and social security, as well as providing community legal education to older people and legal professionals.”

For people aged 60 years and over, together with their carers and families, the clinic also supports older people in areas such as family law, neighbourhood disputes, and tenancy issues through mediation.

Mr McCarthy said the new service would extend the highly successful and renowned work of the University of Newcastle Legal Centre (UNLC) which is part of Newcastle Law School and has been a provider of free legal services locally and nationally since 1993.

“The guiding principle of the UNLC is to promote access to justice, especially to those who are disadvantaged or vulnerable. Both clinics build on that ethos,” Mr McCarthy said.

“Although the Central Coast is currently serviced by two free legal services, they are unable to meet the growing demand for assistance from the community,” Mr McCarthy said.

The Central Coast has a significantly higher proportion of older people, with 21 per cent of the population aged over 65 compared to 16.3 per cent of the State’s population and 15.7 per cent of Australia’s total population.

Common issues older people face include consumer matters, financial abuse, planning ahead for the future (enduring guardianship appointment, enduring power of attorney, wills, advanced care directive) and accommodation matters and driver’s licensing.

“Many older people live in retirement villages and care facilities where there can be complex legal issues and the need for advocacy to ensure their rights are upheld. Service providers and disputes with management of self-care units and interpretation of retirement village contracts are increasing legal issues for this demographic,” Mr McCarthy said.

The clinic provides University of Newcastle students with a rich workplace experience during their study, placing them within the legal profession, connecting them with government and private legal professionals, courts, tribunals and vulnerable clients. The clinic also ensures students are exposed to disadvantaged populations and provides the opportunity to be inspired by local professionals who work to improve legal outcomes and access to justice for those in need.

In Newcastle, the clinic runs on Wednesdays at University House, and in Gosford the ‘pop up’ clinic operates on Thursdays from the ground floor of the Australian Taxation Office building in Gosford.

To find out more information about the clinic and operating hours, community members can contact 1800 314 792, or visit www.newcastle.edu.au/older-persons-legal-clinic.


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