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

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NSW Legal Needs Survey in disadvantaged areas: Walgett, Justice issues paper 9   

, 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, 400 participants were drawn from the Walgett LGA, who reported a total of 910 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 Walgett
and all regions, 2003
Number of legal events
Walgett
All regions
No.
%
%
0
123
30.8
30.9
1
98
24.5
22.3
2
52
13.0
13.9
3 or more
127
31.7
32.9
Note: All regions, n = 2431, and for Walgett, n = 400 participants.

Table 5 shows that almost 31 per cent of Walgett participants reported that they did not experience any legal events in the past 12 months. The remaining 69 per cent reported experiencing at least one legal event. This proportion was almost identical with that for the total sample (69.1%). Further, it appears that the Walgett subgroup had a similar distribution to the overall survey sample in the frequency of legal events reported during the reference period. In detail, Walgett LGA had very similar rates for reporting one or two events (37.5% vs 36.2% respectively), and three or more events (31.7% 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, Walgett, 2003



Note: Walgett, n = 400 participants (of which 277 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 Walgett LGA was civil law (60.3%). This was not surprising given the survey questionnaire predominantly covered civil legal issues. The proportion of the Walgett sub-sample reporting civil issues was not significantly different to the sample overall (62.4%).16 However, although Walgett participants reported experiencing one or more legal events of any type at a similar rate to the overall sample (see section on incidence of legal events), the proportion for reporting criminal matters (domestic violence, general crime and traffic offences) was significantly higher (35.5%) compared with all regions (30.2%).17 For family matters, only a small proportion of Walgett participants (7.0%) reported at least one family law issue, which was not significantly different from the percentage for all regions (8.5%).18

Table 6: Incidence of legal events by broad area of law and legal event group,
for Walgett and all regions, 2003
Area of lawEvent group
Walgett
All regions
Number of participants
% of participants
% of participants
CivilAccident/injury
60
15.0
19.2
Businessa
25
6.3
5.0
Consumer
79
19.8
22.0
Credit/debt
67
16.8
12.0
Educationb
34
8.5
7.4
Employmentc
40
10.0
12.1
Government
67
16.8
19.5
Healthd
19
4.8
3.2
Housing
63
15.8
22.6
Human rights
25
6.3
5.8
Wills/estates
65
16.3
14.6
CriminalDomestic violence
15
3.8
3.9
General crime
128
32.0
26.6
Traffic offences
11
2.8
3.2
FamilyFamily
28
7.0
8.5
a 115 Walgett participants and 562 overall owned a small business. Of these, 25 (21.7%) and 122 (21.7%) respectively reported at least one business event.
b 153 Walgett participants and 1076 overall were full- or part-time students, or were responsible for a student. Of these, 34 (22.2%) and 181 (16.8%) respectively reported at least one education event.
c 193 Walgett participants and 1417 overall were employed full- or part-time at some time during the reference period. Of these, 40 (20.7%) and 293 (20.7%) respectively reported at least one employment event.
d 135 Walgett 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, 19 (14.1%) and 77 (10.0%) respectively reported at least one health event.
Notes: All regions, n = 2431, and for Walgett, n = 400 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 both Walgett LGA and all regions are shown in Table 6. Civil matters listed in this table include: accident/injury, business, consumer, credit/debt, education, employment, government, health, housing, human rights, and wills and estates. Within civil law, the legal event reported most often by Walgett participants was consumer (19.8%).

Walgett participants reported experiencing a number of events within civil law at different rates than the overall sample: Walgett respondents reported significantly less accident/injury (15.0% vs 19.2% respectively)19 and housing events (15.8% vs 22.6% respectively)20 than the overall sample. On the other hand, education and wills and estates events were reported at significantly higher rates than overall (8.5% vs 7.4% and 16.3% vs 14.6% respectively).21 Credit/debt events were also reported at a significantly higher rate than the overall sample (16.8% vs 12.0% respectively)22 which may be because this region had a high proportion of Indigenous respondents: The analysis for the overall survey indicated that Indigenous participants had twice the likelihood of non-Indigenous people of reporting such problems (Coumarelos et al. 2006).

For criminal law, further to the result in the previous section that Walgett participants reported higher rates of experiencing criminal law events compared to the overall sample, Table 6 suggests that it is events under the general crime group specifically that were significantly higher than the overall sample (32.0% vs 26.6% respectively).23

Response to legal problems

As noted earlier, respondents in Walgett LGA reported a total of 910 legal events (range 1 to 15, 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 474 most recent events for the Walgett sub-sample.

Figure 2 shows that help was sought for 45 per cent of 'most recent' legal events experienced. In approximately 17 per cent of legal events, the respondents dealt with the issue themselves. A sizeable minority, however, did not take any action (37.6%). Compared to those for the overall sample (51.2%, 16.0% and 32.8% respectively), Walgett LGA had a lower proportion of participants reporting they sought help24 and a higher proportion reporting they did nothing in response to their legal problems.25 In fact, of the six LGAs surveyed, at 45 per cent Walgett participants reported the lowest proportion of legal events for which help was sought (range 50–54% for other regions) and the highest proportion of legal events for which they did nothing in response to their legal problems (37.6%, range for other regions 30–35% for other regions).

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



Note: n = 460 events, data missing for 14 events.

When the reasons for 'doing nothing' in response to legal events among the Walgett sub-sample were further examined (see Figure 3), two main explanations emerged. In approximately 33 per cent of legal events where the respondent did nothing, it was because the respondent felt the issue was not serious or did not know how serious the event was. In approximately 27 per cent of legal events, the respondent felt that action either would not make any difference or would make things worse. These were also the two most common reasons for taking no action in all regions. The other main reasons for Walgett respondents taking no action were that the respondent did not know how to get help or could not get there (in approximately 17% of legal events) and the respondent had bigger problems, was too busy, or thought the issue would take too long to address (in 10.5% of legal events). Only a small proportion mentioned cost as a reason for not seeking help (4.5%).26

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



Notes: Walgett, n = 156 events, data missing for 17 events.

Those grouped into the ‘other’ category (n = 12) did not seek help because they were too embarrassed or did not trust anyone, thought the problem was their faults or had no internet access.

Figure 4 displays what Walgett respondents did in response to their three most recent legal events, broken down by broad area of law. Looking at the results overall, compared with civil matters and family matters, there is some suggestion that a greater proportion of those who did not seek help did nothing about their criminal matters rather than dealing with it themselves. However, the differences were not statistically significant.27 Help was sought in approximately 45 per cent of civil legal events, lower than the rate over all regions (51.4%).28 Indeed, of the six LGAs surveyed, Walgett LGA had the lowest proportion of participants reporting they sought help for civil matters (range 49–54% for other regions). Further, help was sought in approximately 46 per cent of criminal legal events, almost identical with that for all regions (46.7%).29 However, for family matters, again, there was a lower proportion of Walgett respondents reporting they sought help (38.5% vs 55.4% respectively).30 Given the result in the previous section (Response to Legal Problem) that Walgett participants reported they sought help at a lower rate than that for all regions, these findings suggest that less help was sought for civil and family matters, rather than criminal matters.

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



Notes: Walgett, n = 460 events, data missing for 14 events.

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

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 45 per cent of the most recent events experienced by the Walgett sub-sample. In 82 per cent of the cases where help was sought, only one source was approached for help. This figure was 78 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 Walgett 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 Walgett LGA sample and across all regions.

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



Note: All regions, n = 1455, data missing for 41 events and for Walgett, n = 199, data missing on 8 events.

It appears that for the Walgett sub-sample, the first (or sole) source of advice was more likely to be to a non-legal source rather than a legal source (85.4% vs 14.6% respectively). Seeking help from non-legal more often than legal advisers was also observed in the overall sample. Specifically, a non-legal adviser was sought in the first instance in 79.8 per cent of legal events and a legal adviser in only 20.2 per cent over all regions. Of all the regions, Walgett LGA had the lowest proportion of events for which legal (as opposed to non-legal) sources were approached in the first instance (14.6%, range 16–30% for other regions). However, this difference did not reach statistical significance.31

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 they 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 Walgett sub-sample and the overall sample.

Table 7: Source of knowledge about sole or most useful adviser,
for Walgett and all regions, 2003
Source of knowledge about adviser
Walgett
All regions
No.
%
%
General knowledge
60
30.2
30.2
Used the service before
53
26.6
17.7
Referral by another agency/persona
29
14.6
14.5
Referral from a friend or relative
18
9.0
8.7
Adviser was a friend or relative
17
8.5
16.7
Pamphlet/Poster
7
3.5
2.3
Telephone book
5
2.5
3.0
Internet
3
1.5
2.1
Walked in off the street
3
1.5
1.1
Media
1
< 1.0
1.8
Community Legal Centre referral
1
< 1.0
1.1
Adviser approached them
1
< 1.0
< 1.0
Other
1
< 1.0
< 1.0
Total
199
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 Walgett n = 199, data missing for 8 events for which help was sought.

Table 7 shows that Walgett participants were generally similar to all participants in terms of the channels they used to source their advisers. Similar to all participants, those from Walgett frequently found their adviser by using their own personal knowledge and personal networks (e.g. 30.2% used their general knowledge, 26.6% had used the adviser before, in 8.5% of cases the adviser was a friend/relative and in 9.0% of cases the adviser was referred from a friend/relative). However, when compared with all participants, Walgett participants were even more likely than average to use an adviser from a service they had used before (26.6% vs 17.7% respectively).32 This was the only apparent difference between Walgett participants and those from all regions in terms of the channels used to source advisers.

As with the overall sample, Walgett participants were also often referred to their adviser by another agency or someone other than a friend/relative (14.6%). Also similar to the overall sample, Walgett participants used sources such as the telephone book, a pamphlet/poster, the media and the internet relatively infrequently to source their advisers (<1.0% to 3.5%).

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 Walgett participants when they sought help for their legal problems.

Table 8: Barriers to obtaining assistance from any advisers,
for Walgett and all regions, 2003
Type of Barriers
Walgett
All regions
No.
%
%
No problem
98
57.6
61.8
Delay in getting response
38
22.4
17.0
Lack of local services/couldn't get there
35
20.6
8.1
Difficulty getting an appointment
31
18.2
11.0
Telephone engaged/on hold too long
27
15.9
18.4
Problem with opening hours
15
8.8
7.6
Other problem
11
6.5
4.8
No ability to access the Internet
10
5.9
2.4
Difficulty understanding advice/information
8
4.7
4.7
Difficulty in affording it
7
4.1
6.0
Embarrassed to be seen using services
4
2.4
1.8
English language problems
2
1.2
1.5
Notes: All regions, n = 1246, data missing for 250 events, and for Walgett, n = 170, data missing for 37 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.

Walgett participant experienced barriers to receiving assistance in almost 42 per cent of legal events where help was sought, slightly higher than for all regions (38.2%). However, the most common types of barriers experienced by the Walgett participants appear similar to those for the overall sample. The barriers reported were mainly associated with delay in getting a response back from an adviser (22.4%), lack of local services (20.6%), difficulty getting an appointment (18.2%) and difficulty getting through to an adviser on the telephone (15.9%), the latter being the most common barrier to obtaining assistance over all regions. Further, the problem of lack of local services was experienced by Walgett participants at a higher rate than for all regions (20.6% vs 8.1% respectively).33 This is not unexpected, given the isolation and size of this locality. However, it highlights a significant barrier for legal service provision in remote areas. In only a small proportion of legal events did people report not being able to afford an adviser (4.1%). 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). For more than half of legal events reported in the current study, however, no problems were reported with the assistance sought.

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 Walgett 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 Walgett and all regions, 2003
Distance travelled (kilometres)
Walgett
All regions
No.
%
%
Didn’t need to travel
67
39.2
44.0
< 3
34
19.9
19.6
4–10
10
5.8
15.8
11–20
4
2.3
8.2
21–40
3
1.8
4.5
41+
53
31.0
8.0
Total
171
100.0
100.0
Note: All regions, n = 1249, missing data on 247 events, and for Walgett, n = 171, data missing for 36 events.

Among the Walgett sub-sample of most recent events, approximately 39 per cent of legal events where help was sought involved no travel to access assistance compared with 67 per cent over all regions. In general, it appears from Table 9 that Walgett participants had to travel much further to obtain assistance than did participants overall. Indeed, as one might expect for a remote area, Walgett participants reported travelling over 20 kilometres to obtain help for almost 33 per cent of legal events, a highly significant difference compared with only 12.5 per cent for all regions.34 This is consistent with the result reported in the previous section (Barriers to Assistance), which indicated a reasonable proportion of participants reported a lack of local services in the Walgett area. Not surprisingly, those residing in metropolitan areas interviewed for this survey 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 Walgett and all regions, 2003
Type of advice
Walgett
All regions
Legal adviser
Non-legal adviser
Legal adviser
Non-legal adviser
No.
%
No.
%
%
%
No help received
1
3.6
15
10.7
5.5
9.1
Legal
17
60.7
30
21.4
63.9
15.0
Non-legal
3
10.7
43
30.7
5.8
34.1
Legal vs non-legal help not specified
9
32.1
53
37.9
29.2
42.2
Notes: All regions, n = 1243, data missing for 253 events, and for Walgett, n = 168, data missing for 39 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, although the number of legal events is small overall, 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 (60.7%). Interestingly, help of a legal nature was also received from a non-legal adviser in 21.4 per cent of events. In 30.7 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 Walgett respondents felt with their sole or most useful adviser. Figure 6 shows the rate of satisfaction, broken down by type of adviser.

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



Notes: Walgett, n = 168 events, missing data for 39 events for which help was sought.

The 'not satisfied' category includes those who reported being dissatisfied with help received as well as those that were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with help received.

It appears from Figure 6 that in the great majority of legal events, respondents were satisfied with the assistance they received from their sole or most useful adviser. Although it appears that the level of satisfaction is higher for the help received from legal than non-legal advisers (82.8% vs 68.3% respectively), this difference did not reach statistical significance.35 Compared with the overall sample, Walgett participants had a similar level of satisfaction (82.8% vs 85.8% respectively) for legal advisers36 but a much lower level of satisfaction (68.3% vs 76.3% respectively) for non-legal advisers.37 In fact, of the six regions surveyed, the level of satisfaction for non-legal advisers was reported the lowest by Walgett participants (range 73–80% for other regions).


14  All statistical comparisons between individual LGAs and the overall sample were performed by logistic regression using deviation contrasts (see Appendix 2).
15  No comparisons are statistically significant at p = .05.
16  Not statistically significant at p = .05.
17  OR = 1.29, p < .01.
18  Not statistically significant at p = .05.
19  OR = 0.75, p < .05.
20  OR = 0.66, p = .001.
21  Education: OR = 1.45, p < .05
22  Wills and estates, OR = 1.31, p < .05.
23  OR = 1.50, p = .001.
24  OR = 1.32, p = .005.
25  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, OR = 0.76, p > .01.
26  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, OR = 1.25, p < .05.
27  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 didn`t 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.
28  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, did nothing vs handled alone and sought help combined for criminal matters vs civil, p > .05, criminal matters vs family matters, p > .05.
29  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, OR = 0.76, p < .05.
30  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, p > .05.
31  The number of family events (n = 26) was too small for mixed effects analysis.
32  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, p > .05.
33  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, OR = 2.13, p < .01.
34  Not formally statistically tested.
35  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, OR = 9.47, p < .001.
36  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, p > .05.
37  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.