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Spike in demand for legal help after floods amid insurance backlog

7 Dec 2022

Demand for free legal help from NSW residents impacted by the flood crisis and other disasters has soared, with a growing number seeking advice about insurance claims amid a major backlog.

Legal Aid NSW’s specialist state-wide Disaster Response Legal Service (DRLS) has seen a spike in demand for legal help, with new data released today showing a 400 per cent increase in services provided to flood victims compared to the year prior.

Since March 1, 2022, the DRLS has delivered over 5,407 services to flood impacted clients compared to almost 1,000 in 2021.
The service offers free legal help to people who have been affected by disaster about issues including insurance claims, housing, tenants’ and workers’ rights, and legal options for people in financial hardship.

“Some of the most common issues people encounter after a flood involve the insurance claim process, or problems accessing payments for temporary accommodation,” Senior Disaster Response and Insurance lawyer Ma’ata Solofoni said.
“Since the March 2022 floods, 43 per cent of services have been about insurance, compared to 20 per cent about housing and tenancy. Many clients have questions about more than one legal issue. “

Ms Solofoni said many clients, including some from the Black Summer bushfires, were still struggling with insurance claim delays because of the scale of the flood crisis and pandemic-related supply and labour issues, leaving some at risk of homelessness.
Over the past fortnight alone lawyers from the DRLS have delivered over 300 services on the ground at Recovery Assistance Points across the state in Molong, Orange, Eugowra, Cudal, Cowra, Parkes, Forbes, Wagga Wagga, Adelong and Gundagai, as well as continuing assistance in Lismore, and across the Northern Rivers.

West Ballina resident Irene Healy’s property manager threatened eviction after her rental was damaged in the February floods.
“I received an email from the property manager saying ‘the insurance company says you have to get out,’” said the Ballina Angels volunteer. “Then one day when I was getting the kids ready for school a team of builders with jackhammers turned up saying they were going to demolish the house.”

After receiving legal advice from Legal Aid NSW at a recovery centre, she was able to stay at the property.

Legal Aid NSW CEO Monique Hitter said recent events like the pandemic and floods had a disproportionate impact on disadvantaged communities, leading to an increase in demand for legal advice.

"The events of the past year have presented unique legal challenges for vulnerable communities," she said. “Equal access to legal advice is essential to ensure people understand their rights when faced with challenging circumstances like losing their home to flooding.”

Director, Civil Law, Legal Aid NSW Meredith Osborne said embedding timely legal help in disaster response could prevent many of the flow-on social issues related to disasters like homelessness and unemployment.

“What we've learnt over the past three disasters is that is critical that people impacted by disasters have access to legal advice early on to ensure they can understand and assert their rights. Legal help has to be embedded in the recovery efforts in the aftermath of disasters to ensure the best outcomes for people and communities that have experienced acute dislocation,” she said.

Anyone affected by floods or storm damage can contact the Disaster Response Legal Service on 1800 801 529 or visit disasterhelp.legalaid.nsw.gov.au to find out how we can help.

Media Contact | Georgia Clark, Legal Aid NSW | 0438 606 092
Photo: Danielle Smith