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Sunday, January 17, 2021

Legal Aid: Domestic violence calls up 500% during pandemic

Calls relating to domestic violence surged by almost 500% during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a document tabled in NSW Parliament this week.

The Legal Aid NSW annual report shows that the organisation’s Domestic Violence Unit took more than 1,500 calls between March and June this year.

This is almost five times the average rate – where 1,000 calls are taken in a whole year – and does not include almost 1,000 email referrals also received during the pandemic.

Demand also increased for civil law services with a sharp increase in a range of issues.

As at 30 June 2020, Legal Aid NSW had provided 938 services to clients in COVID-19 related civil law matters, covering topics such as employment (33.6%), immigration (30.2%), housing (8.3%) and consumer (7.9%).

Almost a quarter of these services were provided in regional NSW.

Increased enquiries about family law and parenting arrangements led to a COVID-19 telephone mediation model that was implemented in April 2020.

Around 90% of mediations held have resulted in full or partial agreement, and some matters have resolved prior to mediation.

Legal Aid NSW chief executive Brendan Thomas said COVID-19 had forced changes in a number of areas of practice including court practices, types of services offered, the way those services were delivered, and flexible working for staff.

“I have been enormously impressed by the resilience, professionalism and dedication that our staff have shown in response to the challenges of this year,” he said.

“Their efforts mean that our clients have been able to get the help they need to ensure a just and equitable NSW legal system.”

Following the bushfires of 2019-2020, Legal Aid NSW also provided more than 1000 legal services and reached 2500 community members through community legal education.

The most common issue arising was insurance disputes, comprising 45 percent of total legal services, followed by disaster welfare (12%), tenancy (8%), credit and debt (8%), and neighbour disputes (6%).