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Iosifidis, Denise --- "The NSW rural and regional debt hotline" [2001] AltLawJl 30; (2001) 26(2) Alternative Law Journal 93

Community Legal Centres: The NSW Rural & Regional Debt Hotline

DENISE IOSIFIDIS[*] discusses the work of the Consumer Credit Legal Centre in Sydney and, in particular, their hotline for rural residents.

While consumers in Sydney and other major metropolitan areas have been able to get legal advice on banking, credit and debt problems from a range of places, including CLCs, people from outside these areas have simply been unable to access this help. The Consumer Credit Legal Centre (CCLC) has attempted to meet this problem with its Rural and Regional Debt Hotline, now in its fourth year of operation. The Debt Hotline allows rural and regional residents to obtain legal advice from a solicitor by calling a toll-free number.

The Debt Hotline is a free telephone advice service available exclusively to people from rural and regional areas of NSW. By calling a toll-free number — 1800-247-890 — consumers are able to get free legal advice on banking, credit and debt problems. The Debt Hotline was officially launched by the NSW Attorney-General, the Hon. Jeff Shaw QC on Monday, 16 September 1996. Funding for the Debt Hotline is provided by the Commonwealth government through the ‘Access to Justice’ statement.

While the Debt Hotline is aimed at individuals with banking, credit and debt problems, everyone is given initial advice. People who call the Debt Hotline from outer metropolitan areas will be referred to a more appropriate service.

The Debt Hotline operates two days a week. Telephone advice sessions are available Tuesdays from 10 am to 12.30 pm, and Thursdays, from 2.00 pm to 4.30 pm.

The CCLC also assists consumers living in rural and regional NSW in a number of other ways, depending on resources and criteria such as matter type, need, income and capacity. The Centre conducts cases for low income and otherwise disadvantaged rural and regional clients. Consumers living in regional areas encounter substantial problems with the financial services industry and its products including, but not limited to: entering into unjust contracts; enforcement action by creditors; conduct that breaches the Uniform Consumer Credit Code; harassment by creditors; inappropriate repossession practices; issues arising out of the Farm Debt Mediation Act; and banking and EFT disputes.

Apart from our direct client work, CCLC staff provide legal assistance and support to community sector and Legal Aid caseworkers based in rural and regional areas. For instance, during 1999/2000, we worked closely with generalist community legal centres recently established in Albury, Shoalhaven and Far West NSW.

We also provided day-long training workshops to caseworkers in regional areas, including Kempsey, Coffs Harbour, the Hunter region and Bathurst. In addition, the Making Ends Meet: Family Breakdown and Debt Project conducted three workshops in rural and regional NSW — at Dubbo, Wagga Wagga and on the Central Coast.

Finally, CCLC is able to reach a large number of consumers living in regional areas through our regular monthly ‘spot’ on ABC Regional Radio. This radio session, which I have been doing since 1997, provides legal information to rural and regional listeners. There is usually also a question and answer segment at the end of each presentation during which listeners can obtain legal advice or information.

[*] Denise Iosifidis is Principal Solicitor, Consumer Credit Legal Centre NSW.

©2001 Denise Iosifidis

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