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Research Report: Legal Australia-Wide Survey: Legal need in Australia
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Legal Australia-Wide Survey: Legal need in Australia  ( 2012 )  Cite this report

4. Nature of legal problems



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Adverse consequences of legal problems


Respondents were asked whether their problems caused various adverse health and social consequences — namely:
    • stress-related illness
    • physical ill health
    • relationship breakdown
    • moving home
    • loss of income or financial strain.

Respondents provided information on the adverse consequences experienced as a result of 19 203 of their problems. As shown in Table 4.4, respondents reported that these problems caused income loss or financial strain in 28.9 per cent of cases, stress-related illness in 19.7 per cent of cases, physical ill health in 18.5 per cent of cases, relationship breakdown in 10.1 per cent of cases and the consequence of having to move home in 5.4 per cent of cases.

Table 4.4: Adverse consequences of legal problems, Australia

Adverse consequence
N
%
Stress-related illness
3 786
19.7
Physical ill health
3 548
18.5
Relationship breakdown
1 931
10.1
Moving home
1 043
5.4
Income loss or financial strain
5 551
28.9
All problems
19 203
Note: N=19 203 problems. Data were missing for 185 problems. Percentages do not sum to 100, because not all problems had adverse consequences and multiple adverse consequences were reported for some problems.

Figure 4.2 indicates the number of adverse consequences experienced per legal problem (based on the five consequences measured by the survey). At least one of the five consequences measured was reported for almost half (45.2%) of the 19 203 problems. One consequence was reported for 24.0 per cent of these problems, two consequences were reported for a further 10.4 per cent of problems, and at least three consequences were reported for 10.7 per cent of problems.

Figure 4.2: Number of adverse consequences per legal problem, Australia

Note: N=19 203 problems. Data were missing for 185 problems.

Table 4.5 shows the relationship between the number of adverse consequences experienced by each respondent and the number of legal problems they experienced. This relationship was strong and significant, with the number of adverse consequences increasing as the number of problems increased. For example, three or more adverse consequences were reported by 29.3 per cent of the respondents who had at least three problems, but by only 3.7 per cent of the respondents who had one problem.(6) In fact, compared to the mean number of adverse consequences experienced by respondents with one problem (0.5), the mean for those with two problems (0.8) was almost twice as high, while the mean for those with at least three problems (1.7) was more than three times as high.(7)

Table 4.5: Number of adverse consequences of legal problems by number of legal problems per respondent, Australia

Number of problems per respondent
Number of adverse consequences per respondent
Total
Mean
0
1
2
3
4+
%
%
%
%
%
%
N
1
0.5
68.4
21.0
6.8
2.3
1.4
100.0
3 791
2
0.8
52.1
27.2
11.2
6.3
3.3
100.0
1 970
3+
1.7
26.2
26.4
18.1
15.2
14.1
100.0
4 512
All respondents
with problems
1.1
46.7
24.6
12.6
8.8
7.3
100.0
10 272

Note: N=10 272 respondents with problems. Data were missing for 14 respondents. Somers’ d=0.36 (95% CI=0.34–0.38), SE=0.01, p=0.000, outcome variable is number of adverse consequences.

As would be expected, there was a strong significant relationship between the number of adverse consequences reported for legal problems and their reported severity in terms of impact on the respondents’ everyday lives (see Table 4.6). Adverse consequences were significantly more likely for substantial problems than for minor problems. For example, only 1.9 per cent of respondents with minor problems experienced at least three adverse consequences compared to 20.8 per cent of respondents with substantial problems.(8) In fact, the mean number of adverse consequences for substantial problems was more than three times as high as the mean for minor problems.(9)

Table 4.6: Number of adverse consequences of legal problems by problem severity, Australia

Problem severity
Number of adverse consequences per problem
Total
Mean
0
1
2
3
4+
%
%
%
%
%
%
N
Minor
0.4
73.7
20.0
4.3
1.5
0.4
100.0
10 217
Substantial
1.4
33.4
28.6
17.3
12.0
8.8
100.0
8 986
All problems
0.8
54.8
24.0
10.4
6.4
4.3
100.0
19 203

Note: N=19 203 problems. Data were missing for 185 problems. Somers’ d=0.37 (95% CI=0.36–0.39), SE=0.01, p=0.000, outcome variable is number of adverse consequences.

Table 4.7 displays the number of consequences reported per legal problem broken down by the type of problem. As shown, problem group was significantly related to the experience of adverse consequences, with some types of problems being more likely to result in one or more of the adverse consequences examined in the survey. In particular, accidents and consumer problems resulted in relatively fewer adverse consequences, while personal injury, family, health and employment problems resulted in a greater number of adverse consequences. Whereas no consequences were reported for more than seven-tenths of accidents and consumer problems,(10) no consequences were reported for 6.7 per cent of personal injury problems, 15.2 per cent of family problems, 29.3 per cent of health problems and 31.8 per cent of employment problems. The mean number of adverse consequences for family problems (2.2) was more than five times as high as that for accidents problems (0.2) and consumer problems (0.4).(11)


Table 4.7: Number of adverse consequences of legal problems by problem group, Australia

Problem group
Number of adverse consequences per problem
Total
Mean
0
1
2
3
4+
%
%
%
%
%
%
N
Accidents
0.2
84.1
12.1
2.8
0.8
0.2
100.0
1 316
Consumer
0.4
71.5
19.2
5.7
2.6
1.1
100.0
4 125
Credit/debt
1.0
42.6
31.3
12.0
8.2
5.9
100.0
994
Crime
0.7
64.0
18.2
8.8
5.0
4.0
100.0
2 937
Employment
1.3
31.8
30.5
18.2
12.8
6.7
100.0
1 185
Family
2.2
15.2
24.9
17.8
20.2
21.8
100.0
1 095
Government
0.7
57.9
26.5
8.8
5.1
1.7
100.0
1 879
Health
1.5
29.3
26.6
21.3
12.9
9.9
100.0
547
Housing
0.6
66.3
18.1
8.8
4.4
2.4
100.0
2 022
Money
1.0
41.6
33.0
11.4
8.6
5.4
100.0
1 014
Personal injury
1.5
6.7
55.0
23.2
10.1
4.9
100.0
1 132
Rights
0.8
55.9
22.9
10.2
6.4
4.5
100.0
957
All problems
0.8
54.8
24.0
10.4
6.4
4.3
100.0
19 203

Note: N=19 203 problems. Data were missing for 185 problems. Chi-square test results are reported, because the appropriate regression model for ordinal data failed to converge. ?2=4540.70, F43,444880=64.79, p=0.000.

Table 4.8 shows the frequency of the different types of adverse consequences broken down by problem group. There appeared to be considerable variation in the types of adverse consequences reported for different problem groups.(12) For example, the problem groups with the highest proportions of problems reportedly causing stress-related illness were the family (43.0%), health (39.9%) and employment (38.0%) problem groups. Not surprisingly, physical ill health was most commonly reported for legal problems related to personal injury (90.0%) and health (52.5%), but was also relatively common for family (34.3%) and employment (27.3%) problems. The high proportion of family problems causing relationship breakdown (53.5%) largely reflects the capture of the problems of divorce and separation. Just under one-third of family legal problems resulted in the respondent moving home. The problem groups with the highest proportion of problems reportedly causing income loss or financial strain were the family (56.2%), employment (49.6%), credit/debt (48.8%) and money (47.6%) problem groups.

Table 4.8: Adverse consequences of legal problems by problem group and problem subgroup, Australia

Problem group
Adverse consequence
Total
Problem subgroup
Stress-related illness
Physical
ill health
Relationship breakdown
Moving
home
Income loss or financial strain
%
%
%
%
%
N
Accidents
4.3
2.8
1.6
0.5
11.7
1 316
Consumer
10.2
5.8
2.9
0.9
22.9
4 125
Goods
5.2
3.0
2.0
0.7
9.4
964
Services
11.7
6.6
3.2
1.0
27.0
3 161
Credit/debt
23.0
14.3
12.6
5.4
48.8
994
Crime
17.9
13.1
9.3
5.9
22.0
2 937
Crime offender
30.9
22.5
21.6
11.2
30.2
291
Crime victim
16.5
12.0
8.0
5.3
21.1
2 646
Employment
38.0
27.3
12.4
5.4
49.6
1 185
Family
43.0
34.3
53.5
29.7
56.2
1 095
Childrena
39.1
32.9
32.5
19.9
53.3
689
Relationships
49.6
36.6
89.1
46.1
61.3
406
Government
17.2
10.0
4.9
2.4
32.1
1 879
Fines
10.5
5.5
2.9
0.9
30.5
405
Government payments
26.0
11.9
6.9
4.8
61.5
336
Local government
13.1
8.7
3.4
0.8
19.2
774
State/federal government
25.2
16.4
8.3
5.1
34.3
363
Health
39.9
52.5
14.8
7.3
34.9
547
Clinical negligence
34.4
53.5
10.1
5.9
35.4
349
Health services
43.2
48.6
18.7
8.2
36.2
139
Mental health
64.2
55.2
33.7
13.7
29.6
59
Housing
16.9
11.2
7.9
7.5
15.6
2 022
Neighbours
14.4
9.7
6.9
2.8
7.4
1 305
Owned housing
22.5
13.5
11.5
9.3
34.3
301
Rented housing
20.4
14.2
8.9
22.1
27.7
399
Other housing
~
~
~
~
~
17
Money
24.0
16.4
12.6
2.9
47.6
1 014
Business/investment
19.2
13.2
5.9
1.6
55.9
696
Wills/estates
34.4
23.6
27.5
5.7
29.5
318
Personal injury
23.2
90.0
7.2
4.4
28.8
1 132
Rights
25.4
16.7
12.3
7.0
21.0
957
Discrimination (outside work)
24.8
17.7
12.8
8.3
24.1
302
Education
24.7
12.9
12.8
5.0
13.8
418
Unfair treatment by police
28.4
23.3
10.2
9.5
26.9
217
Other civil
20.2
11.9
14.3
0.0
56.9
21
All problems
19.7
18.5
10.1
5.4
28.9
19 203

~ Due to insufficient numbers, percentages are not provided.
a Includes problems related to grandchildren (see Appendix A1, question P28). Some respondents (1075) had missing information on whether they had grandchildren (see Appendix A1, question D6) and were not asked about legal problems related to grandchildren. Thus, the adverse consequences reported for the children problem subgroup may slightly underestimate the true level of adverse consequences.
Note: N=19 203 problems. Data were missing for 185 problems. Percentages do not sum to 100, because multiple adverse consequences were reported for some problems.


6. I.e. 15.2+14.1=29.3% versus 2.3+1.4=3.7%.

7. I.e. 1.6 times as high for respondents with two problems versus those with one problem (0.8/0.5=1.6), and 3.4 times as high for respondents with at least three problems versus those with one problem (1.7/0.5=3.4).

8. I.e. 1.5+0.4=1.9% versus 12.0+8.8=20.8%.

9. I.e. 1.4/0.4=3.5.

10. As noted earlier, the accidents problem group by definition consisted only of injury-free motor vehicle accidents. Accidents involving injury were captured within the personal injury problem group.

11. The mean for family problems was 11 times as high as that for accidents problems (2.2/0.2=11.0). The mean for family problems was 5.5 times as high as that for consumer problems (2.2/0.4=5.5).

12. A significance test was not conducted, because multiple adverse consequences were reported for some problems.

  


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Coumarelos, C, Macourt, D, People, J, MacDonald, HM, Wei, Z, Iriana, R & Ramsey, S 2012, Legal Australia-Wide Survey: legal need in Australia, Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney