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First Research and Evaluation Report Phase One Consumer Action Law Centre Project – Responding Effectively to Family Violence Dimensions of Debt and Credit Through Secondary Consultations & Training with Community Professionals

Author(s): Elizabeth Curran

The Report of the Royal Commission into Family Violence recognised that the family violence victim’s financial security impacts on their wellbeing. Beyond the role of the perpetrator of violence, many problems interact in relation to family violence related debt: 1. The considerable difficulties victims face in asserting and enforcing their financial rights alone; 2. A systemic failure by financial and utility service providers “to understand, identify and respond to economic abuse”; and 3. Inadequate legal and regulatory protections. This Research and Evaluation Report Phase One, evaluates whether the aim of this project to provide a Secondary Consultation (SC) service integrated with Consumer Action’s Training and Outreach program providing training, resources and support to community workers (‘community professionals’) to overcome barriers identified in previous studies by working with trusted community professionals to whom people experiencing family violence are likely to turn to enable their credit & debt legal issues is being addressed in a timely and effective way. The data discussed and analysed for this report including the proxies or benchmarks, set for this research evaluation are being achieved namely engagement, capacity, collaboration and empowerment however there are still some areas for improvement, which is only natural when this project is in its infancy and the issues as the Royal Commission highlights are so vexed and complex. The in-depth interviews reflect that trust and reliability are critical in gaining secondary consultations and referrals. The former being identified (as in other studies ) as critical if the latter are to flow. The qualitative data suggests that Consumer Action is starting to build trust and relationships but there are notes of warning from the interview participants about a need for clarity around the extent and resources and types of matters Consumer Action can assist with and offer support on. This the research participants 5/6 noted can also give them confidence and greater certainty as they support their clients through family violence and debt and credit related issues. The research data consistently highlights the value of secondary consultations (5 out of 6 of the participants strongly agree to its value) in providing efficient, effective and responsive timely secondary consultation to community professionals especially where clients may: not be emotionally ready to see a lawyer, have too many issues weighing on them, or have had poor experiences of lawyers. The latter is consistent with other research but seems to be addressed, as the participants noted in the in-depth interviews with the style of community lawyering that is approachable and practical and considers context. Consumer Action has delivered training sessions which double the number which the funding requires. This is a critical part of building the awareness not only of the service but of the range or problems capable of a legal solution, building trust and relationships and capacity to respond of agencies and other community professionals into the future beyond the extensive reach that Consumer Action already has, to financial counsellors. Noted by all interview participants was that secondary consultations are invaluable as they build trust, provide a form of instant on the spot training, especially for professionals and their clients in rural locations, which are being used to extend the reach of Consumer Action to clients beyond those for whom the initial consultation is sought as the information has wider utility. It can be timely and there is no intake process that for other services can present barriers.

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Research theme: Health, Law and Bioethics, Human Rights Law and Policy, Indigenous Peoples and the Law, Law and Social Justice, Legal Education, The Legal Profession

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