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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

3. Prevalence of legal problems



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Prevalence of legal problems: Australian summary


In Australia, legal problems were widespread and often substantial. One-half of Australian respondents (49.7%) reported experiencing one or more legal problems in the 12 months prior to interview. Furthermore, more than one-quarter of all Australian respondents (27.2%) reported experiencing a substantial legal problem — that is, a problem that had a moderate or severe impact on their everyday life. In addition, the experience of multiple legal problems was common, with just over one-fifth of Australian respondents experiencing at least three legal problems.

Some types of legal problems occurred far more frequently than others. The legal problem groups with the highest prevalence rates in Australia were the consumer (20.6% of all respondents), crime (14.3%), housing (11.8%) and government (10.7%) problem groups.

Some respondents were much more likely than others to experience legal problems, with a minority of respondents accounting for the majority of the legal problems reported. For example, respondents with three or more legal problems represented just over one-fifth of the Australian sample but accounted for more than four-fifths of the legal problems experienced.

Regression analyses were used to determine the demographic groups that had increased prevalence of:
    • legal problems overall
    • substantial legal problems
    • multiple legal problems
    • problems from each of the 12 problem groups.

Most notably, these regression analyses showed that age and various indicators of disadvantage were reliably related to the prevalence of legal problems according to a number of measures.

Age was one of the strongest predictors in most regressions, suggesting a robust ‘stages of life’ effect. When compared to one or more of the younger age groups, the oldest age group had low prevalence of legal problems overall, substantial legal problems, multiple legal problems and problems from all 12 legal problem groups. Different types of legal problems also tended to peak at different ages or stages of life. For example:
    • Accidents, crime, personal injury and rights problems peaked in the younger age groups, either at 15–17 or at 18–24 years.
    • Credit/debt problems peaked at 25–34 years.
    • Family problems peaked at 35–44 years, with the next highest levels at 25–34 years.

In contrast to age, gender generally showed fewer and weaker relationships to the prevalence of legal problems. Males had higher prevalence of legal problems overall, multiple legal problems and problems from six problem groups. However, females had higher prevalence of substantial legal problems and health problems. Gender was unrelated to the prevalence of problems from the other five problem groups.

The regressions also showed that a number of disadvantaged groups had high prevalence of legal problems. People with a disability were the disadvantaged group with increased prevalence according to the greatest number of measures. In addition, the relationships between disability and increased prevalence were often among the strongest. However, single parents, people who had been unemployed and people who had lived in disadvantaged housing also had increased prevalence according to several measures:
    • People with a disability had high prevalence of legal problems overall, substantial legal problems, multiple legal problems and problems from all 12 problem groups.
    • Single parents had high prevalence of legal problems overall, substantial legal problems, multiple legal problems and problems from eight problem groups.
    • People who had been unemployed had high prevalence of legal problems overall, substantial legal problems, multiple legal problems and problems from eight problem groups.
    • People who had lived in disadvantaged housing had high prevalence of legal problems overall, substantial legal problems, multiple legal problems and problems from seven problem groups.

Unlike most indicators of disadvantage, low education levels and non-English main language tended to be related to low rather than high prevalence according to several measures. More specifically:
    • People with low education levels had low prevalence of legal problems overall, substantial legal problems, multiple legal problems and problems from 10 problem groups.
    • People with a non-English main language had low prevalence of legal problems overall, substantial legal problems and problems from seven problem groups. However, they also had high prevalence of health problems.

The other indicators of disadvantage had only a few significant relationships with prevalence, and these relationships were sometimes in the direction of low rather than high prevalence for certain disadvantaged groups. More specifically:
    • People whose main source of income was government payments had high prevalence of substantial problems and problems from four problem groups but low prevalence of problems from another four problem groups.
    • Indigenous people had high prevalence of multiple problems and government, health and rights problems.(23)
    • People living in remote areas had low prevalence of accidents and housing problems compared to those living in major city areas. In addition, compared to people living in major city areas, those living in regional areas had low prevalence of legal problems overall, accidents problems and housing problems, but high prevalence of multiple legal problems and family problems.

The LAW Survey results for Australia on the prevalence of legal problems are interpreted further in Chapters 9 and 10. These chapters compare the Australian results to the LAW Survey results for other jurisdictions and to international findings.


23. Methodological factors may have militated against detecting a greater number of significant effects for this demographic group. See Chapter 10, ‘Tailoring services for specific demographic groups: Indigenous background’ section for details.

  


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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