Launceston CLC promotes legal literacy

In April 2011, Launceston Community Legal Centre launched an innovative program to improve legal literacy in the community.

Operating in outreach locations across nothern Tasmania, the Legal Literacy Volunteer program places, in accessible community venues, trained volunteers to help people resolve non-legal issues, like completing forms required by Centrelink and other government agencies and reading or understanding documents. The program relieves pressure on the centre’s legal service provision by helping with more straightforward tasks which might otherwise fall to one of the centre’s lawyers, while at the same time providing a conduit to the centre’s legal services for those who are genuinely in need of them.

The program team consists of a program coordinator, a support officer and a solicitor. Part of the solicitor’s role is to review training on legal matters and ensure that volunteers are providing accurate and appropriate information. Data collected by volunteers as part of the reporting processes provide a valuable resource for analysing community needs and measuring the effectiveness of the program.

Despite the success of the program, the centre has faced an uphill battle due to funding issues and the COVID-19 pandemic. In early 2020, the program, which is not funded under the NLAP agreement, had its state government cut. By the time the funding was restored 18 months later, it was necessary to hire staff to replace program staff whose positions ended with the loss of funding. Processes and training materials needed updating, and connections with host venues needed re-building. Previous volunteers needed refresher training and a recruitment drive was launched to replace those volunteers who had moved during the shut-down. In a post-pandemic environment where people are less likely to offer their time, this has proved challenging.

Having now re-established the program, the centre sought to highlight it during the recent NLAP review, as a cost-effective model of legal problem prevention and early intervention. The centre hopes the NLAP review will result in increased base-level funding in the next NLAP agreement so that centres can operate innovative programs like this under the longer-term funding security provided by NLAP.