Phone LawAccess NSW on 1300 888 529. LawAccess NSW also have a web chat.
LawAccess NSW is the best place to start to resolve your legal problem. It is a free government telephone service. They will be able to refer you to the most appropriate service to assist you, including referrals to community legal centres, Legal Aid NSW, or other services. In some cases, they may provide legal advice over the telephone.
You can also use our online application to find the right community legal centre to talk to.
You are not alone – the legal system in New South Wales can be very daunting and confusing to navigate.
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There are two ways to find out which community legal centre you should contact:
- Phone LawAccess NSW on 1300 888 529. LawAccess NSW have trained staff who can listen to your legal issue and direct you to the appropriate service.
- Use our online application. Our online application can help you figure out who it is best to talk to. There is likely a community legal centre in your local area; there may also be a state-wide service that can help you.
There are two types of community legal centres in New South Wales – generalist and specialist community legal centres. Read more »
All community legal centres provide free legal help.
Some centres also provide holistic, integrated and wrap-around care. This can include:
- Tenants’ advocacy
- Social worker support
- Financial counselling
- Court support
- Restorative justice specialists
- Disability advocacy
- Diversion programs
Community legal centres can give free legal help to most people who live in their local area, or who are looking for advice in an area of law they specialise in.
However, due to limited resources, community legal centres often cannot provide further assistance. Where a centre can help, they usually help people who cannot afford a private solicitor and/or are unable to access Legal Aid NSW.
Many community legal centres have a client intake policy. Community legal centres have this intake policy to ensure they are providing services to those in most need.
Community legal centres will ask you some questions to decide whether they are able to assist you with your legal issue. For instance, they may ask you where you live to ensure that you are in their catchment area. They will also likely ask what area of law you have a problem in to ensure that they are the right people to help you. Some community legal centres will ask questions about the person’s employment status or income level.
The answers to these questions may then restrict the service offered. If a person is earning a medium to high income, and action beyond just obtaining legal advice is required, a community legal centre will generally indicate it cannot take the matter further. Referrals to private practitioners will then be made.
No, they are not the same.
Community legal centres are independent, non-profit organisations that work closely with their local communities to provide a range of services. This includes legal information and advice, casework, community education, advocacy, and law reform.
Community legal centres are not part of government. We do not provide your information to government or police. We are bound by our professional obligations and community ethics to keep your information private.
Legal Aid NSW is a government legal service that helps with family law, criminal legal matters, and civil law matters (such as fines, tenancy and debt). Legal Aid NSW provides free legal advice as well as court representation, and grants of legal aid to pay for a Legal Aid lawyer or a private solicitor. At Legal Aid NSW, if someone needs more than initial advice on their matter, they need to apply for a grant of legal aid. Legal Aid NSW applies a means test when assessing grant applications. This includes looking at a person’s income, such as salary or government pensions, and any assets owned by the person. If you are successful with your grant application, a lawyer from Legal Aid NSW or a private lawyer paid for by Legal Aid will work on your matter.
Community legal centre services are free.
In certain circumstances, some centres may charge for costs or disbursements associated with casework. That is, if your case is taken to court, the community legal centre may ask you to pay costs of the matter, such as court filing fees, printing and other disbursements.
If there are going to be costs, the community legal centre will give you a ‘costs agreement’ to sign upfront.
Some community legal centres provide fee-based training to organisations and communities to cover the costs of providing the training, such as printing and venue hire.
There may be a number of reasons why a community legal centre is unable to assist with a matter.
These can include:
- The centre does not deal with the legal issue.
- You may earn too much or have too many assets to qualify for assistance from the community legal centre.
- Community legal centres provide support to people in vulnerable situations, including people struggling with money, housing or experiencing hardship. When you speak to a community legal centre, they will ask a number of questions to ensure they are providing services to those in most need.
- Community legal centres are unable to meet all demands on their services due to funding constraints. If they are unable to assist, they may either refer you to another organisation or place you on a wait list.
- There could be a conflict of interest for the community legal centre in dealing with the matter; for example, the centre is advising, or has advised, the other party to the matter. Legal professional conduct rules state that a legal practice cannot advise both parties to a matter, other than in exceptional circumstances. Due to privacy, the centre is unable to provide information on the conflict of interest if it arises.
If you are based outside NSW but want help with a legal issue which occurred in NSW ring LawAccess NSW on 1300 888 529. They may be able to assist you over the phone with legal advice or provide you with a referral to the most appropriate service to assist you.
A ‘warm referral’ occurs where an organisation, such as a community legal centre, with the permission of the individual, has discussed an individual’s matter with another organisation, and that second organisation then agrees to consider the matter in more detail and consider whether it is able to assist.
Complaints about a community legal centre should, at first, be made directly to the individual centre. All community legal centres have an internal complaints policy (available on their website or by calling the community legal centre or Community Legal Centres NSW), that will explain who you can call or write to and what will happen to your complaint.
What happens if I am not satisfied with the community legal centre’s response?
If you are not satisfied with the response from the community legal centre, you can complain to other bodies.
If your complaint is about a lawyer, you can complain to the Office of the Legal Services Commissioner online or by calling 02 9377 1800 or 1800 242 958 (toll free).
You can also complain to the NSW Ombudsman who have oversight of community organisations in New South Wales. You can contact the NSW Ombudsman online or by calling 02 9286 1000 or 1800 451 524 (toll free).
If the community legal centre receives funding from Legal Aid NSW, you can also raise your concerns with Legal Aid NSW’s Community Legal Centre Program Unit online or by calling 02 9219 5000.
Community legal centres are funded from a range of sources.
Most community legal centres in NSW receive funding from both the Commonwealth and State Governments, although the amounts they receive from each vary enormously. Most community legal centres are registered Australian charities or not-for-profits and receive funding from grants, philanthropy, and community fundraising.
Need free legal help?
Community legal centres help thousands of people every single day with a whole range of issues – housing, fines, family matters, domestic and family violence, and more.
Call Law Access on 1300 888 529 or use our online directory to find out who to speak to.