May 13, 2020 |
The Consumer Action Law Centre is a statewide community legal centre that provides free information, advice and representation for consumer law issues to Victorians experiencing disadvantage.
The coronavirus health crisis has created a number of major consumer rights issues, ranging from predatory lenders to people who have lost their jobs to people seeking refunds for travel, concerts and services.
The Centre runs the Consumer Legal Advice Service, Community Worker Advice Service and the Koori Help legal advice line. It also runs high profile advocacy campaigns, and provides training and community engagement.
They take around 60% of all calls from Victoria to the National Debt Helpline, meaning they have been in the middle of the COVID-19 storm right from the start. The National Debt Helpline received 2,765 calls nationally in the week from April 20 to 26.
Director of Policy and Campaigns, Katherine Temple, said she has never witnessed this level of community need for strong, independent and free legal advice.
“People are in extreme financial distress, worried about putting food on the table and just meeting their basic needs. There is a level of desperation for many and unscrupulous businesses are trying to exploit that.”
“In addition to providing our advice services, we have run a number of campaigns highlighting the destructive impact of predatory payday lenders and the need for utility companies to keep people connected to essential services during the crisis.”
The impact on staff has also been significant with the shift to remote working. Some face-to-face activities, including community engagement and training, are not possible at the moment but are being re-started using phone and video technology.
“Community legal centres are vital to our community, more so during a crisis. People need to know there are places they can go for help that are free and independent, that will act in their interests instead of trying to take advantage.”
The Consumer Action Law Centre is available for financial counselling and legal advice. Visit www.consumeraction.com.au for more information.