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Issue 16 - January 2014

Postcard from... Melbourne


Jillian Williams is the Director of Legal Practice at Melbourne's Consumer Action Law Centre, and a member of the FOS Consumer Liaison Group. We spoke with Jillian about her work and the kinds of issues the Centre is seeing at the moment.

How long have you been in your role?

I’ve been at the Consumer Action Law Centre for eight years and have been in the director role for just over two years. I share this role with Tom Willcox.

Why did you choose to work for the Consumer Action Law Centre (CALC)?

I always wanted to work in a community legal centre for vulnerable and marginalised people. CALC is a really strong legal centre that integrates its legal case work and financial counselling work with the broader policy and law reform work it does. This means we are able to effect broad change for a greater number of people in the community. It’s also just a great place to work.

What sort of help are you able to give your clients?

We provide immediate telephone legal advice and depending on the query, we will draft documents for people who seek our advice and assist them with their case as far as possible. We also do legal case work in which we act on behalf of individuals in their dispute with a trader or financial services provider, including litigating on their behalf if necessary. We also offer telephone financial counselling through our MoneyHelp service. Our policy and campaign work then picks up on the issues that our legal and financial counselling teams are seeing on the ground.

What are some of the significant consumer problems that your client base faces?

One of the main ones is financial hardship – whether it is the result of job loss or over commitment. We are therefore very concerned when we identify instances of poor hardship practices, prohibitive debt collection practices and irresponsible lending. This is also why Financial Counselling Australia’s Rank the Banks Report is such an important publication. It holds financial institutions to account for those poor practices and acknowledges those institutions which are responding appropriately to people’s hardship.

We are also seeing small amount credit contracts (payday lending products) causing extreme financial hardship to the most vulnerable and marginalised members of the community, which is why we are really excited NAB is taking steps to discontinue funding to institutions which offer those sorts of products.

Has the type of person who walks through your door for help changed over time?

We have always, and we continue to, primarily assist people in the community who are experiencing economic or social disadvantage. I don’t think the type of person who walks through the door has changed much but it’s possible that since the financial crisis there’s a large amount of people who once lived reasonably comfortably who have been or are being affected by job loss or reduced hours and the significant ongoing financial, emotional and psychological stress brought on by this.

How many people work at CALC?

We have around 35 people – both full time and part time – and a strong volunteer base.