Women’s Legal Service Queensland
What are your views on the proposed quantum for each year of the first three years of the model?
The proposed quantum is significant and could be utilised most effectively to assist the most vulnerable people in our society experiencing financial disadvantage, debt and other social issues.
It is however, crucially important that specialist free legal services, such as Women’s Legal Service, Queensland, also receive funding for Financial Counselling and Financial Capability services.
Women’s Legal Service Queensland has a dedicated Financial Abuse Prevention Unit consisting of a family law/DFV solicitor (funded by WLSQ), Financial Counsellor (funded by FCF Queensland until 30 June 2023) and Financial Capability worker (funded by WLSQ). Specialist women’s legal services take a unique gendered and trauma-informed approach to assisting women experiencing violence, including providing integrated, wrap around support that meets a range of needs. Women experiencing financial disadvantage and domestic and family violence face unique legal issues and barriers to accessing justice due to lack of finances, inability to obtain Legal Aid funding and/or inability to access supports.
Women experiencing financial disadvantage and relationship debt, often have a range of intersecting legal needs which specialist women’s legal services can assist with, including migration law, family law, family violence intervention orders,criminal law and child protection.
The majority of our clients require advice for safe exit planning for finances and also from a DFV perspective, therefore advice in relation to Domestic Violence Applications and referrals to our Social Workers (funded by WLSQ) for safety planning if they did not already have safety plans in place, so that they and their children can safely leave abusive relationships and start afresh.
Clients are often in financial crisis when referred to us, this usually entails immediate intervention by our Financial Abuse Prevention Unit for issues such as disconnection from utilities such as electricity & gas.
Our Financial Counsellor will also apply for concessions from utility providers and assist clients to create a realistic budget setting out income and expenditure on a weekly/ fortnightly basis. Having an accurate ‘snap shot’ of their finances can sometimes be the reality check some clients have needed to take action on paying down debts (no matter how small) and on making plans for their financial future.
Most importantly, the exercise of budget planning prior to leaving an abusive relationship can provide a woman with the confidence to know that she and her children can leave and survive financially outside of that relationship.
The main issue with many financial counselling services (Salvation Army etc), is that they are not specialised in trauma informed care, domestic and family violence and the family law issues impacting women. By providing funding for Financial Counselling to Women’s Legal Service Queensland, the funders can be assured that women are receiving the best financial counseling, specialist legal advice and representation when required, safety planning and social work support. This wrap around service provides women and their children with the best foundations for safer personal and financial outcomes.
What is your view on the proposed initial three-year commitment? Is this an appropriate length to ensure flexibility and stability of funding?
For job security of community legal centre staff, three years commitment would be a welcome commitment. However, to maximise growth of services and staff training within the sector, community awareness and engagement with the services, a longer period would be most desirable.
What are your views on the proposed characteristics of the independent body as set out in Table 4? Are there other characteristics that should be considered?
The sector representatives should also include specialists from the Domestic and Family Violence sector who can bring their unique gendered and trauma-informed approach to assisting women experiencing debt, financial disadvantage and violence, in addition to family law expertise relating to property settlement aspects of debt.
Are there any other comments you would like to add?
Women’s Legal Service Queensland’s Financial Counsellor has secured over $1.5 million in debt waivers, Victims Assistance payments, Escaping Violence Payments and grants for vulnerable women since July 2020.