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MEDIA RELEASE: Help with Centrelink debt notices just a phone call away

3 Apr 2017

Anyone who needs legal advice relating to a Centrelink debt will benefit from a new, streamlined referral partnership led by Legal Aid NSW.

Legal Aid NSW is joining forces with community legal centres in NSW to give timely and independent legal advice to people who have been told they owe money to Centrelink.

This NSW-first initiative will draw on the combined resources of Legal Aid NSW, LawAccess NSW, the Welfare Rights Centre and the Illawarra Legal Centre to deliver expert legal advice to people who have been told they owe a debt to Centrelink, including those who have received a so-called robo-debt or automated debt notice.

A new streamlined process allows anyone calling in to the NSW legal information hotline LawAccess NSW in relation to a Centrelink debt to have their enquiry fast-tracked.

Callers will be contacted by Legal Aid NSW or a partner community legal centre within 48 hours so that they can receive legal advice.

“We are joining forces with lawyers in the community legal sector to ensure that we can equip anyone who has received one of these notices with information about their legal rights as quickly as possible,” Legal Aid NSW Executive Director for Civil Law Monique Hitter said.

“We want people to understand their options if they get a debt notice they don't agree with.”

“In many cases, people who have been told they owe a debt only have a short window in which to respond. So it’s important that anyone in this situation is able to access legal advice quickly.”

Welfare Rights Centre Coordinator and Principal Solicitor Katherine Boyle said she had seen a steady increase in the number of people seeking help responding to a Centrelink debt in recent months.

“This is an important step that will give vulnerable people on extremely low incomes a clear starting point to get legal advice and support,” Ms Boyle said.

Liz Turnbull of Illawarra Legal Centre Welfare Rights said that people were often working against the clock when they tried to resolve a Centrelink issue.

“A call from a debt collector or an unexpected letter saying that a person might owe thousands of dollars can place people under enormous strain,” Ms Turnbull said.

“We want to make sure people in those very stressful situations understand that free legal support is available.”

Lawyers at Legal Aid NSW, the Welfare Rights Centre and the Illawarra Legal Centre can advise on challenging a debt, Freedom of Information requests, and the appeals process.

Call LawAccess NSW on 1300 888 529 to receive free legal information and referrals to Legal Aid NSW and other legal services in NSW. You can also visit www.legalaid.nsw.gov.au to find a Legal Aid NSW service near you.

LawAccess NSW respects callers' privacy and will only pass on callers' details to Legal Aid NSW or partner community legal centres with their consent.

Media Contact: Sophie Tarr (02) 9213 5208 or 0419 212 334