The Australian Labor Party (ALP) has promised a significant funding boost for financial counsellors and community legal centres across the country if it wins the next election. The ALP has committed to the creation of a Financial Rights Fund that includes an additional $120 million in funding for specialist consumer lawyers focussing on financial services.
The increased funding will go towards funding 200 additional specialist lawyers across the country, and a doubling of financial counsellors. This follows the announcement of a Federal Government-led review of financial counselling funding, which also proposes to improve the coordination and funding of financial counselling
This news comes off the back of the final report from the Banking Royal Commission, which highlighted the need to resource organisations that assist vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians with banking and finance-related issues.
Consumer Action Law Centre CEO, Gerard Brody says access to community lawyers make a world of difference for the thousands of people who have dispute with financial service providers.
“The demand for assistance from our specialist lawyers is greater than ever. Since 1 July, our team has assisted over 2,250 people with a range of consumer and finance-related issues. However, demand across the country for specialist legal services like ours consistently outstrips capacity. There is huge unmet need for legal assistance in this area,” says Brody.
Brody welcomes news of additional funding, which he says would increase the sector’s capacity to assist more Australians in their time of need.
He also stresses the important role community lawyers have in identifying systemic issues in the finance industry.
“Through our case work, our lawyers can very quickly identify where things are falling over on a larger scale. In 2017-18 alone, our team made 160 complaints to regulators about firms they identified as not complying with legal or ethical standards.”
Mr Brody also highlighted the important role community lawyers and financial counsellors play in law reform and policy development.
“Our case work provides important insights into the experiences of everyday Australians who have been ripped off by financial services firms. These insights provide a balancing consumer voice in policy development. Increased funding to the legal assistance sector should ensure appropriate resourcing for the sector to participate in law reform processes.”
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