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Merger to benefit consumers


Cite as: (2006) 80(12) LIJ, p. 15

Two of Victoria’s leading consumer-advocate groups have joined forces to create Australia’s biggest con-sumer casework organisation.

The Consumer Action Law Centre (CALC) opened its doors last month following the union of the Consumer Credit Legal Service (CCLS) and the Consumer Law Centre Victoria (CLCV).

Increasing overlap in work undertaken on a range of issues and difficulty in securing on-going funding made the merger logical, CALC’s joint chief executives Carolyn Bond and Catriona Lowe said.

“We have talked about a merger for some years,” Ms Lowe said.

“A bigger organisation will allow us to do bigger cases and broaden the scope of the matters we are dealing with.”

The Consumer Credit Legal Service (CCLS) was established in 1983, with funding provided by Victoria Legal Aid and more recently Consumer Affairs Victoria. While its primary focus was legal casework, the CCLS played a role in campaigns and policy in areas including debt collection practices and the regulation of finance brokers.

Consumer Law Centre Vic-toria (CLCV) was established in the early 1990s with $2.25 million from a trust fund set up as part of the settlement of a credit licensing case run by CCLS.

While initially focusing solely on policy work, since 2000 it has also undertaken casework. It has focused on issues including reform in the utilities, financial services and telecommunications sectors, competition and consumer protection policies, exploitative credit practices and access to justice.

While the expanded organisation’s main role will be casework – it will have 8-10 legal positions within an initial staff of 15, it will also have a strong campaign focus.

“Culturally, we are seeing it as a campaign centre,” Ms Bond said.

“We plan to campaign for out-comes which improve the consumer’s position.”

Before the merger, the two organisations worked together at the Melbourne Home Show to warn consumers against getting caught out by high-pressure selling tactics and signing up to high-interest contracts with finance companies. They also released a fact sheet detailing the financial pitfalls and concerns about companies that provide educational software.

“This is really reflective of how we see the centre operating. We are prepared to be more direct and believe we can have an impact on how these companies operate,” Ms Bond said.

Victoria Legal Aid will initially provide $730,000 a year for legal casework while Consumer Affairs Victoria will contribute $370,000 per annum for the provision of legal advice to community advisers, including financial counsellors and legal centres.


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