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‘From no hope to building a new life’: $95m boost for to help our most vulnerable

Legal Aid Domestic Violence Unit solicitor in charge Anna Baltins said the legal system could be complex for people fleeing domestic violence and dealing with multiple other issues as well. But the funding boost would allow the unit to support more people.

She said the pandemic had changed how the unit delivered its service as victims were unable to seek help as easily due to the lockdown.

Legal Aid NSW chief executive officer Brendan Thomas said demand for DVU advice had more than doubled during the first wave of the pandemic in 2020, and that while the unit usually fields around 1000 calls annually, there had been more than 6000 calls in the 12 months to March 2021.

“Lockdowns are about staying home to be protected from COVID-19. But for the women we work with, home is not always a safe place, a fact that may have been exacerbated due to mandatory lockdowns and other necessary health restrictions,” Mr Thomas said. “Our DVU is critical in helping victim-survivors seek protection orders, navigate the family law system, access support and safe housing, and seek financial counselling.”

NSW Attorney-General and Minister for Prevention of Domestic and Sexual Violence Mark Speakman said the funding, to be distributed by the state government, will allow the sector to meet the unprecedented service demand exacerbated by the pandemic.

“I encourage providers to apply for funding to support victim-survivors of domestic and sexual violence, people in need of mental health services, and other disadvantaged groups grappling with financial stress that’s often intensified by COVID-19,” he said.

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Domestic Violence NSW Policy, Advocacy and Research Manager Renata Field said, while there had been an increased demand on support services during the pandemic, there were concerns calls for help would only grow as restrictions ease.

“We are happy to see the [funding] announcement today around additional legal support, but I do think there is a need for a funding boost across the sector,” she said. “We need it not just for legal, but also for mental health, for housing, crisis accommodation, for services across the board.”

The federal funding boost to the NSW legal sector is part of the National Legal Assistance Partnership Agreement 2020-25.

Commonwealth Attorney-General Michaelia Cash said the funding boost would assist vulnerable Australians in accessing vital legal services.

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