Left to right: Care Financial Counselling and Consumer Law CEO Carmel Franklin and Care Consumer Law Principal Lawyer Agata Pukiewicz.
11 September 2023
A free legal service that supports Canberrans involved in consumer or credit law disputes has received a funding boost ensuring it will be available for another year.
The Consumer Law Duty Service assists with disputes in the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT). It is available to all Canberrans but prioritises helping people who may not be able to afford legal representation.
Canberrans can seek free legal advice and in some cases representation from the service when they bring their disputes before ACAT. This improves the access to justice for vulnerable Canberrans by placing lawyers at the same location as ACAT.
The free legal service can assist with issues between individuals and businesses including:
- disputes relating to the sale of goods or services, and unfair contract terms
- debt recovery (contacted by debt collectors, or served with legal documents about debt)
- consumer credit (mortgages, credit cards or personal loans).
Care Consumer Law solicitor Agata Pukiewicz says that staff find fulfilment in supporting those who are most disadvantaged in the community.
“Our legal team consists of staff who are very committed to social justice and achieving positive outcomes for our clients, which brings a huge level of satisfaction and fulfilment,” Agata said.
“We help with fair trading and contract matters, including consumer protections under the Australian Consumer Law (consumer guarantees), unfair contract terms and misleading and deceptive conduct.
“We also deal with debt recovery and bankruptcy issues, where we assist clients who are pursued by creditors and debt collectors in relation to alleged or outstanding debts.”
Agata said the rising cost of living had increased the demand on the free legal service.
“Many Canberrans, even those previously living on comfortable household incomes, are now experiencing financial pressures and even hardship,” she said.
“We are observing an increase in home and car repossessions, with lenders more ready than before to take such drastic actions, and sooner. We are also observing more people owing several credit cards, payday lending and Buy Now, Pay Later debts, even to the extent of having to resort to Buy Now Pay Later products to meet most basic living expenses, such as grocery shopping.”
New funding has been provided by the ACT Government to local community organisation Care Incorporated to allow the service to be extended for another year.
The funding comes in response to the increasing need for legal support in relation to consumer or credit law disputes, and the challenges faced by people on low or middle incomes wanting access to this legal advice.
The service is available Monday from 9am to 4pm in the Legal Assistance Room at the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal, 15 Constitution Avenue.
More information about the service is available on the Care Community Services website: carefcs.org/acat-duty-service
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