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Free legal help offered to Aussies hit by bushfires

For community members hit by the bushfires still raging across NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland, there is free legal assistance available. (Source: AAP)

The legal aid centres of bushfire-ravaged states are extending their hands to those affected by the blazes who may require assistance.

If you’ve been impacted by the bushfires that continue to ravage NSW, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia, there is the free legal assistance that’s available to you through a range of ways, from fact sheets, dedicated telephone helplines, and online chat services.

Here’s how to get free legal assistance depending on where you are:

If you’re in New South Wales...

Legal Aid NSW lawyers are on standby to provide free legal advice for anyone affected by a natural disaster on a number of topics including insurance claims, tenancy, credit and debt, financial hardship, social security entitlements, and employment, according to NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman.

Natural disaster victims will be treated as priority clients, according to a statement from Legal Aid NSW.

Lawyers will be available to assist you at Legal Aid NSW offices based in Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour, as well as outreaches in Forster, Kempsey, Taree, Bowraville, Grafton, Macksville, and Nambucca.

“All of our solicitors providing help at these locations have undergone training about what to expect,” said Legal Aid NSW CEO Brendan Thomas. The solicitors are trained to respond to trauma experienced by those affected by bushfires, he added.

“Having an experienced advisor to help you navigate through legal issues can significantly reduce trauma and pave the way to rebuilding lives.”

The Disaster Response Legal Service has been established by Legal Aid NSW alongside the Law Society of NSW, the NSW Bar Association as well as community legal centres.

“Individuals, households and business people can call a single hotline for legal advice from the Disaster Response Legal Service, from which they will be referred to an appropriate lawyer – whether they’re from Legal Aid or the private legal profession,” said Thomas said.

More than 200 lawyers and firms have already offered pro-bono services.

“This means fire-affected owners of farms and businesses who might not be eligible for Legal Aid will be able to access free quality legal advice to help them rebuild after the disaster,” said Law Society NSW President Richard Harvey.

How to contact Legal Aid NSW

If you’re in Victoria…

Those affected by the recent Victorian bushfires can get in touch with Disaster Legal Help Victoria, a collaboration between Victoria Legal Aid, the Federation of Community Legal Centres, the Law Institute of Victoria, the Victorian Bar and Justice Connect

After a bushfire, common legal problems include insurance claim rejections, landlord disputes over lease terminations and outstanding rent, debt and financial problems from job losses, and the cost of dealing with the aftermath of a disaster.

Disaster Legal Help Victoria can help you with:

  • dealing with insurance claims 

  • replacing lost or destroyed documents, including wills and title documents

  • tenancy and accommodation issues

  • managing debt and financial hardship

Acting Executive Director of Civil Justice, Access and Equity at Victoria Legal Aid, Joel Townsend said the emotional and stressful time can also see legal problems surface and escalate quickly.

“Disaster Legal Help will be available over the coming weeks and months to help people get back on their feet. We will coordinate with the State Government’s Bushfire Response and Recovery Taskforce to provide in-person assistance at recovery centres and community meetings where needed,” he said.

If Disaster Legal Help lawyers can’t assist you, you can be referred to specialist support services and pro bono services, Townsend added.

How to contact Disaster Legal Help Victoria

  • Call the Disaster Legal Help Victoria phone line on 1800 113 432 (available Monday to Friday, 8 am to 6 pm) for free legal information, advice and referrals

  • Visit the website at www.disasterlegalhelp.org.au

If you’re in Queensland…

Legal Aid Queensland’s services include online legal information, legal advice, help in court y a duty lawyer, assistance with dispute resolution, community legal education and referrals to other organisations.

“The natural disaster assistance we provide is broad, covering property or car damage, insurance problems, tenancy issues, debt and financial hardship, employment problems and access to electricity and other services damaged,” a LAQLD spokesperson told Yahoo Finance.

“We help people understand their rights. In some cases we would outline the next steps they need to take to sort out their problem. In other instances the support we might provide may be more substantial.”

The legal agency has also put out a fact sheet about what to do when a natural disaster strikes that is designed to help Queenslanders with their insurance claims.

How to contact Legal Aid Queensland

If you’re in South Australia...

The Legal Services Commission of South Australia’s services include a legal advice helpline, legal advice appointments through their suburban or regional offices including Elizabeth, Port Adelaide, Noarlunga, Port Augusta and Whyalla.

LSCSA lawyers can provide free preliminary legal advice to bushfire victims on the following:

  • insurance claims and insurance company disputes

  • employment law protections for people assisting with bushfire emergency management measures

  • landlord and tenancy issues

  • property damage; property losses through looting/theft

  • financial hardship options for individuals and small businesses dealing with debt and income  problems

  • the replacement of destroyed documents (e.g. insurance paperwork, tenancy agreements, drivers’ licences, property documents, Medicare cards, and certificates relating to birth, death, marriage or a change of name)

  • Centrelink payments

Outreach appointment services are available for those living in or near Mount Barker or Murray Bridge every Wednesday morning and afternoon respectively.

LSCSA also offers a legal chat service available on the website that is manned between Monday to Friday from 9am to 4:30pm.

How to contact Legal Services Commission of South Australia

  • Legal Helpline on 1300 366 424

  • Visit their website at https://lsc.sa.gov.au/

  • Get in touch with Law Society of SA lawyers who have volunteered to provide free legal assistance to disaster victims at disaster.planning@lawsocietysa.asn.au

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