Note: the original hard copy of this report is 16 pages .

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NSW Legal Needs Survey in disadvantaged areas: Nambucca, Justice issues paper 6   

, 2008 Justice made to measure: NSW legal needs survey in disadvantaged areas (2006) is the report of a large-scale quantitative study of the legal needs of disadvantaged people in six local government areas of New South Wales. More than 2400 residents across the regions were interviewed about their legal needs. This report was preceded by an initial study Quantitative legal needs survey: Bega Valley (pilot) (2003). There now follows a series of papers in the Justice Issues imprint. Six individual papers will describe how disadvantaged people deal with legal problems, detailing the responses from one of the regions surveyed: Campbelltown, Fairfield, Nambucca, Newcastle, South Sydney and Walgett.......


Survey results


Incidence of legal events14

For the Law and Justice Foundation's 2003 survey, 414 participants were drawn from the Nambucca LGA who reported a total of 925 legal events. Table 5 displays the number of legal events reported per participant. The corresponding proportions for all regions are also shown.

Table 5: Number of legal events per participant, for Nambucca
and all regions, 2003
Number of legal events
Nambucca
All regions
No.
%
%
0
141
34.1
30.9
1
86
20.8
22.3
2
54
13.0
13.9
3 or more
133
32.1
32.9
Note: All regions, n = 2431, and for Nambucca, n = 414 participants.

Table 5 shows that approximately 34 per cent of Nambucca participants reported that they did not experience any legal events in the past 12 months. The remaining 66 per cent reported experiencing at least one legal event. This proportion was not significantly different to the total sample (69.1%). Further, it appears that the Nambucca subgroup had a similar distribution in the frequency of legal events reported during the reference period. In detail, Nambucca LGA had similar rates for reporting one or two events (33.8% vs 36.2% respectively), and three or more events (32.1% vs 32.9% respectively) compared with the average over all regions.15

Areas of law

Figure 1 displays the broad areas of law in which respondents reported legal issues. The bars show the proportion of respondents who reported at least one of these types of issues (civil, criminal, or family) in the last 12 months.

Figure 1: Incidence of legal events by broad area of law, Nambucca, 2003


Note: Nambucca, n = 414 participants (of which 273 participants reported 1 or more legal events).

As Figure 1 shows, the most commonly reported area of law in the past 12 months among participants in Nambucca LGA was civil law (61.1%). This was not surprising given the survey questionnaire predominantly covered civil legal issues. The proportion of the Nambucca sub-sample reporting a civil issue was not significantly different to the sample overall (62.4%).16 However, the proportion reporting criminal matters (domestic violence, general crime and traffic offences) was significantly lower among Nambucca participants (23.4%) compared with all regions (30.2%), which may be related to the greater proportion of respondents aged over 65 years in the Nambucca sub-sample compared with the other regions noted earlier.17 Further, almost 13 per cent of Nambucca respondents reported at least one family law issue, which was significantly higher than the percentage for all regions (8.5%).18 Thus, although the previous section (Incidence of Legal Events) showed that Nambucca participants reported experiencing one or more legal events of any type at a similar rate to the overall sample, when broken down by areas of law, of the six LGAs surveyed, Nambucca LGA had the highest proportion reporting family matters (range 6–10% for other regions) and the lowest proportion of participants reporting criminal matters (range 26–36% for other regions). With respect to the latter finding, compared with other regions, Nambucca had the lowest proportion of people aged 25–34 in the sample (9.9%, range 17–31% for other regions). This lower reporting rate for criminal matters in Nambucca is consistent with data from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) (2004) that people aged 25–34 were more likely to be found guilty of criminal offences such as theft and robbery than other age groups.

Table 6: Incidence of legal events by broad area of law and legal event group,
for Nambucca and all regions, 2003
Area of lawEvent group
Nambucca
All regions
Number of participants
% of participants
% of participants
CivilAccident/injury
67
16.2
19.2
Businessa
25
6.0
5.0
Consumer
81
19.6
22.0
Credit/debt
40
9.7
12.0
Educationb
36
8.7
7.4
Employmentc
36
8.7
12.1
Government
82
19.8
19.5
Healthd
17
4.1
3.2
Housing
89
21.5
22.6
Human rights
24
5.8
5.8
Wills/estates
73
17.6
14.6
CriminalDomestic violence
20
4.8
3.9
General crime
84
20.3
26.6
Traffic offences
8
1.9
3.2
FamilyFamily
52
12.6
8.5
a 99 Nambucca participants and 562 overall owned a small business. Of these, 25 (25.3%) and 122 (21.7%) respectively reported at least one business event.
b 170 Nambucca participants and 1076 overall were full- or part-time students, or were responsible for a student. Of these, 36 (21.2%) and 181 (16.8%) respectively reported at least one education event.
c 175 Nambucca participants and 1417 overall were employed full- or part-time at some time during the reference period. Of these, 36 (20.6%) and 293 (20.7%) respectively reported at least one employment event.
d 157 Nambucca participants and 768 overall had chronic conditions or mental/physical disabilities or were responsible for a person with a disability or an elderly person. Of these, 17 (10.8%) and 77 (10.0%) respectively reported at least one health event.
Notes: All regions, n = 2431, and for Nambucca, n = 414 participants.Some participants reported multiple legal events (within or across legal event groups). As a result, proportions reporting each event will not total 100 per cent.


Details of the incidence of the different event types under each of these broad areas of law (civil, criminal and family) for Nambucca LGA and all regions are shown in Table 6. Civil matters include: accident/injury, business, consumer, credit/debt, education, employment, government, health, housing, human rights, and wills and estates. Within civil law, the legal events reported most often by Nambucca participants were housing (21.5%), government (19.8%) and consumer (19.6%). In general, the Nambucca sub-sample reported experiencing events within civil law event groups at a similar rate to the general sample.19 Only wills/estates events within civil law were reported at a higher rate than the overall sample (17.6% vs 14.6% respectively).20 For criminal law, following from the result in the previous section (Areas of Law) that Nambucca participants reported experiencing criminal law events at lower rates compared to the overall sample, Table 6 suggests that it is events under the general crime group that were significantly lower than the overall sample (20.3% vs 26.6% respectively).21 This is consistent with data from BOCSAR (2007a) that theft and robbery offences in Nambucca in 2003 were lower than the average for New South Wales. As mentioned previously, the Nambucca sub-sample reported experiencing family legal events at significantly higher rates than the overall sample.22

Response to legal problems

As noted earlier, respondents in Nambucca reported a total of 925 legal events (range 1 to 18, median = 1 event). Further details about how participants responded to the most recent events (up to a maximum of three) were obtained. The following data are based on the 518 most recent events for the Nambucca sub-sample.

Figure 2: Action taken in response to legal events, Nambucca, 2003


Note: n = 504 events, data missing for 14 events.

Figure 2 shows that help was sought for almost 54 per cent of 'most recent' legal events experienced. In almost 16 per cent of legal events, the respondents dealt with the issue themselves. A sizeable minority, however, did not take any action (30.4%). These rates were not statistically different from those for the overall sample (51.2%, 16.0% and 32.8% respectively).23

When the reasons for 'doing nothing' in response to their legal problems among the Nambucca sub-sample were further examined (see Figure 3), two main explanations emerged. In almost 29 per cent of legal events where the respondent did nothing about their legal problems, it was because the respondent felt that action either would not make any difference or would make things worse.

Figure 3: Most important reason for doing nothing in response to legal events, Nambucca, 2003


Notes: Nambucca, n = 138 events, data missing for 15 events.

Those grouped into the 'other' category (n = 6) did not seek help because they were too embarrassed or did not trust anyone, thought the problem was their fault or had no internet access.

In approximately 23 per cent of legal events, the respondent felt the issue was not serious or did not know how serious the event was. These were also the two most common reasons for taking no action over all regions. The other main reasons for Nambucca respondents taking no action were: the respondent did not know how to seek help, was not easily able to get there (in 16.5% of legal events), the respondent had bigger problems, was too busy, or thought the issue would take too long to address (in 12.0% of legal events). Only a very small proportion mentioned cost as a reason for not seeking help (2.3%).24

Figure 4: Action taken in response to legal events by broad area of law, Nambucca, 2003



Notes: Nambucca, n = 503 events, data missing for 15 events.

Totals for each broad area of law are total events for which information was provided on action taken in response.

Figure 4 displays what the Nambucca sub-sample did in response to their three most recent legal events, broken down by broad area of law. Looking at the results overall, a greater proportion of those who did not seek help about their criminal matters did nothing rather than dealing with it themselves, compared with civil matters25 but not family matters.26 Help was sought in approximately 54 per cent of civil legal events, similar to the average over all regions (51.4%).27 Help was sought in almost 42 per cent of criminal legal events, slightly lower than for all regions (46.7%).28 In contrast, a greater proportion of Nambucca respondents reported they sought help for family matters, compared with respondents over all regions (62.5% vs 55.4% respectively).29

Type of adviser

Although it appears that there are considerable differences in the types of advisers people go to for different types of events (Coumarelos et al. 2006), it is still useful to look at overall patterns in help seeking.

As previously indicated in Figure 2, help with a legal issue was sought in response to approximately half of the most recent events experienced by the Nambucca sub-sample. In 80 per cent of the cases where help was sought, only one source was approached for help. This figure was similar to the78 per cent for all regions (Coumarelos et al. 2006). The following data relate to the first (or only) adviser consulted for each event.

The types of advisers from whom Nambucca participants sought help could be roughly divided into two groups: legal and non-legal. Legal advisers included traditional legal advisers (i.e. a private solicitor or barrister, local court, Legal Aid NSW, LawAccess, NSW Aboriginal legal services, a community legal centre) as well as less formal legal advisers, such as a friend or relative who is a lawyer, and published sources (i.e. the internet and self-help sources). Non-legal advisers included a friend or relative who was not a lawyer, a member of parliament, local council, non-legal community group or organisation, library, trade union/professional body, employer, school/school counsellor/teacher, insurance company/broker, industry complaint handling body, police, or other professional (such as doctor) or private agency/organisation. Figure 5 displays the types of adviser approached by the Nambucca LGA sample and across all regions.

For the Nambucca sub-sample, the first (or sole) source of advice was more likely to be to a non-legal source rather than a legal source (82.4% vs 17.6% respectively). The rates at which respondents sought help from non-legal and legal advisers were consistent with the overall sample (79.8% and 20.2% respectively).30

Figure 5: Type of (first or sole) adviser used, for Nambucca and all regions, 2003



Note: All regions, n = 1455 events, data missing for 41 events and for Nambucca, n = 261, data missing on 10 events.

Respondents who sought help from more than one adviser for the same event were asked to nominate the adviser they found most useful. The following section relates to the adviser judged to be the most useful (if more than one adviser was used) or their sole adviser if the respondent used only one source.

Pathways to advisers

It is important for practitioners to be aware of the pathways through which people find assistance for their legal problems. Table 7 displays the channels through which people found their sole or most useful adviser (legal or non-legal), for both the Nambucca sub-sample and the overall sample.

Table 7 shows that Nambucca participants were generally similar to all participants in terms of the channels they used to source their advisers.31 Firstly, similar to all participants, those from Nambucca frequently found their adviser by using their own personal knowledge and personal networks (e.g. 27.9% used their general knowledge, 18.3% had used the adviser before, in 17.2% of cases the adviser was a friend/relative and in 7.3% of cases the adviser was referred from a friend/relative). Secondly, as with the overall sample, Nambucca participants were also often referred to their adviser by another agency or someone other than a friend/relative (17.2%). Also similar to the overall sample, Nambucca participants used sources such as the telephone book, a pamphlet/poster, the media and the internet relatively infrequently to source their advisers (1.1% to 5.0%).

Table 7: Source of knowledge about sole or most useful adviser, for Nambucca
and all regions, 2003
Source of knowledge about adviser
Nambucca
All regions
No.
%
%
General knowledge
73
27.9
30.2
Used the service before
48
18.3
17.7
Adviser was a friend or relative
45
17.2
16.7
Referral by another agency/persona
45
17.2
14.5
Referral from a friend or relative
19
7.3
8.7
Telephone book
13
5.0
3.0
Pamphlet/Poster
5
1.9
2.3
Media
4
1.5
1.8
Community Legal Centre referral
4
1.5
1.0
Internet
3
1.1
2.1
Walked in off the street
2
< 1.0
1.1
Adviser approached them
1
< 1.0
< 1.0
Other
0
< 1.0
Total
262
100.0
100.0
a Referral from another person or agency includes, but is not limited to, referrals by private business, mental health agencies, insurance companies, local council, police, Workcover, Skillshare, doctor, accountant, psychologist, counsellor, financial counsellor, financial adviser, or loan broker.
Note: All regions, n = 1447, data missing for 49 events, and for Nambucca, n = 262, data missing for 9 events for which help was sought.

Barriers to assistance

When considering the issue of access to legal assistance, it is important to elucidate what may hinder somebody receiving that assistance once they have decided to get help. Table 8 shows the barriers experienced by Nambucca participants when they sought help for their legal problems.

According to Table 8, Nambucca participants experienced barriers to receiving assistance in approximately 36 per cent of legal events where help was sought, similar to the percentage for the overall sample (38.2%). Further, the most common types of barriers experienced by the Nambucca participants appear similar to those for the overall sample, despite the differences in the type of adviser used noted in Figure 5. The main barriers reported were: difficulty getting through to an adviser on the telephone (19.1%) and delay in getting a response back from an adviser (13.9%) — the two most common barriers to obtaining assistance over all regions. In only a small proportion of legal events did people report not being able to afford an adviser (7.8%). In light of this information, services may need to reflect on their communication means and the procedures they have in place from when clients make initial contact to when they receive a response to their inquiry. There is evidence that people, especially vulnerable or marginalised groups, may abandon pursuit of legal assistance if such aspects of a legal service break down (Forell, McCarron & Schetzer 2005). In the majority of legal events reported in the current study, however, no problems were reported with the assistance sought.

Table 8: Barriers to obtaining assistance from any advisers, for Nambucca
and all regions, 2003
Type of Barriers
Nambucca
All regions
No.
%
%
No problem
147
63.9
61.8
Telephone engaged/on hold too long
44
19.1
18.4
Delay in getting response
32
13.9
17.0
Difficulty getting an appointment
27
11.7
11.0
Lack of local services/couldn't get there
25
10.9
8.1
Difficulty in affording it
18
7.8
6.0
Problem with opening hours
14
6.1
7.6
Difficulty understanding advice/information
12
5.2
4.7
Other problem
8
3.5
4.8
No ability to access the Internet
6
2.6
2.4
Embarrassed to be seen using services
2
< 1.0
1.8
English language problems
1
< 1.0
1.5
Notes: All regions, n = 1246, data missing for 250 events, and for Nambucca, n = 230, data missing for 41 events where help was sought.
Percentages do not add to 100 per cent because multiple barriers were sometimes reported for the same event.
The category of 'Other problems' included issues such as receiving inadequate or incorrect advice, refusing to assist or the problem was beyond the area covered by the service contacted.

Distance travelled for assistance

The distance a person has to travel to obtain help may affect their willingness to access legal help. Table 9 shows the distance Nambucca participants travelled to obtain help from the sole or most useful adviser.

Table 9: Distance travelled to obtain assistance from sole or most useful
adviser, for Nambucca and all regions, 2003
Distance travelled (kilometres)
Nambucca
All regions
No.
%
%
Didn’t need to travel
102
43.4
44.0
< 3
33
14.0
19.6
4–10
24
10.2
15.8
11–20
32
13.6
8.2
21–40
19
8.1
4.5
41+
25
10.6
8.0
Total
235
100.0
100.0
Note: All regions, n = 1249, missing data on 247 events, and for Nambucca, n = 235,
data missing for 36 events.


Among the Nambucca sub-sample of most recent events, approximately 43 per cent of legal events where help was sought involved no travel to access assistance. In general, Nambucca participants had to travel slightly further to obtain assistance than did participants overall. Indeed, as one might expect for a rural area, Nambucca participants reported travelling over 20 kilometres to obtain help for legal events, a significant difference compared to other regions (18.7 % vs 12.5% respectively).32 Not surprisingly, those interviewed for this study who resided in metropolitan areas had, in general, closer access to advice than those in regional and rural or remote areas (Coumarelos et al. 2006).

Type of assistance

It would be reasonable to assume that when people are asked whether they sought assistance for their legal problems, they were seeking legal help. However, it appears that legal advice, information or referral may not be the sole type of assistance they receive for events that have legal implications. Table 10 displays the type of assistance the participants in the current survey said they received as help for their legal events.

Table 10: Type of help from sole or most useful adviser for three most recent events, for Nambucca
and all regions, 2003
Type of advice
Nambucca
All regions
Legal adviser
Non-legal adviser
Legal adviser
Non-legal adviser
No.
%
No.
%
%
%
No help received
1
2.7
10
5.2
5.5
9.1
Legal
24
64.9
29
15.2
63.9
15.0
Non-legal
0
71
37.2
5.8
34.1
Legal vs non-legal help not specified
13
35.1
83
43.5
29.2
42.2
Notes: All regions, n = 1243, data missing for 253 events, and for Nambucca, n = 228, data missing for 43 events.
The percentages represent the proportion of legal events for which a type of adviser was used where at least one type of legal help, non-legal help, and/or non-specific help was received for sole or most useful adviser.
Multiple types of help could be reported, therefore percentage do not total 100.


In Table 10, it is worth noting how advisers are actually used by people experiencing legal problems. Examples of legal help include assistance with legal documents, preparation for court proceedings or advice about the legal implications of a course of action. Examples of non-legal advice include medical advice, advice about financial options and counselling and support. Unsurprisingly, in the majority of legal events where assistance was sought from a legal source, the help received was legal in nature (64.9%). Interestingly, help of a legal nature was also received from a non-legal adviser in 15.2 per cent of events. In 37.2 per cent of cases, the help was non-legal. This seems to indicate that people's needs when experiencing a legal event are multiple and include non-legal matters. In some cases, these needs may constitute supporting evidence or assistance with the original problem that gave rise to the legal event (e.g. a medical condition). However, there are also other roles played by advisers such as moral support, housing or financial support (Coumarelos et al. 2006). It is unfortunate that there was also a sizeable minority for whom the type of help was not specified and therefore the issue of type of help received needs to be further clarified in future research.

Satisfaction with assistance

The moderate rate at which barriers were encountered when obtaining assistance described in Table 8 may have contributed to the high levels of satisfaction that Nambucca respondents felt with their sole or most useful adviser. Figure 6 shows the rate of satisfaction, broken down by type of adviser.

It appears from Figure 6 that in the majority of legal events, respondents were satisfied with the assistance they received from their sole or most useful adviser, with satisfaction expressed in greater than 75 per cent of legal events. It appears that the level of satisfaction is higher for the help received from legal than non-legal advisers (91.9% vs 78.9% respectively). However, this difference did not reach statistical significance.33 Similar levels of satisfaction to the overall sample were also reported for legal advisers (91.9% vs 85.8% respectively)34 and non-legal advisers (78.9% vs 76.3% respectively).35

Figure 6: Satisfaction with assistance from sole or most useful adviser by type of adviser, Nambucca, 2003



Notes: Nambucca, n = 227 events, missing data for 44 events for which help was sought.
The 'not satisfied' category includes those who reported being dissatisfied with help received as well as those who were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with help received.


14  All statistical comparisons between individual LGAs and the overall sample were performed by logistic regression using deviation contrast (see Appendix 2).
15  No comparisons are statistically significant at p = .05.
16  Not statistically significant at p = .05.
17  OR = 0.71, p = .001.
18  OR = 1.60, p = .001.
19  p > .05.
20  OR = 1.31, p < .05.
21  OR = 0.71, p < .01.
22  OR = 1.60, p = .001.
23  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering: sought help vs did nothing/handled alone, p > .05, did nothing vs handled alone/sought help, p > .05.
24  Note that it is possible that those who dealt with the problem themselves could have done so because of cost (or level of seriousness, or they did not know where to go for help). However, data was only collected on why respondents chose not to seek any help, not why they chose to deal with it themselves.
25  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, OR = 2.22, p < .05.
26  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, p > .05.
27  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, p > .05.
28  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, p > .05.
29  The number of family events (n = 40) was too small for mixed effects analysis.
30  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, p > .05.
31  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, p > .05 for all comparisons.
32  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, OR = 2.51, p < .01.
33  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, p > .05.
34  The sample size was too small to conduct a logistic regression adjusted for clustering. However, standard logistic regression showed region not to be a significant predictor.
35  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, p > .05.