Access to legal help for people in Bega and surrounding regions has been significantly increased, with aLegal Aid NSW clinic in Bega expanding its drop-in service from a monthly to a weekly basis.
Every Thursday, professional lawyers offer free, confidential advice on a range of legal issues people may be facing, such as financial hardship, workplace rights, debts and fines, family disputes, housing and homelessness.
The Bega service is part of Legal Aid NSW’s Regional Outreach Clinic Program, providing advice to locations that do not have a full time legal service.
Ideally, we want to see people helping themselves, but this is a guiding hand in the right direction.Jenny Lovric, Legal Aid NSW regional outreach clinic program manager
Program manager Jenny Lovric said getting early advice at the legal service may de-escalate issues that could otherwise end up in expensive court hearings.
“By looking at census data, we can see there is social and economic disadvantage in the area,” she said.
“From experience, we know that means people are more likely to have more than one legal issue on their hands and they are less likely to deal those issues effectively without help.”
By increasing the proximity and frequency of Legal Aid’s service, Ms Lovric hopes people will become more empowered to address their legal issues.
“We need to be where people need help, at the moment the closest full time free public legal services are based in Nowra, which is a really long way to travel to see a lawyer,” she said.
“That’s why the Regional Outreach Clinic Program is so important, because we know the more often we make our service available, the more often people can find help.”
Ms Lovric said some of the big issues for the Bega Valley region surrounded debt, housing and homelessness and family law matters.
“Having trouble accessing housing may not seem like a legal issue, but often these things are connected,” Ms Lovric explained.
“Often people who are homeless are carrying debts or fines that need to be addressed before they can successfully get a house to rent, so we work with our non-legal partners, like Mission Australia, to help these people into homes.”
Bega Solicitor Jennifer Chalker is the latest addition to the Legal Aid clinic, providing legal advice at the Bega Court House three days a month. Solicitor Elizabeth Fleming currently provides legal service one day a month.
Ms Chalker has a number of years experience working in the remote North West NSW town of Brewarrina.
Ms Lovric described Ms Chalker was an experienced lawyer whose increased presence in the clinic will provide better clarity for both clients and Legal Aid.
“With more regular sessions, we can start to get a clearer picture about the legal issues and areas of concern for the region,” Ms Lovric said.
“Early intervention is always best, there is no harm in asking for help and it doesn’t cost a thing.
“Ideally, we want to see people helping themselves, but this is a guiding hand in the right direction.”
The Legal Aid NSW Regional Outreach Clinic is held every Thursday from 10am to 1pm at Bega Local Court, Carp Street, Bega. No appointment is necessary, simply drop-in during opening hours.