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CLC investment reaps benefits

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An assessment of community legal centres shows they provide excellent value for money.

Community legal centres (CLCs) saved the Australian community an average of at least $100 for every dollar invested in its programs, according to a new cost-benefit analysis report.

The report, conducted by the Institute for Sustainable Futures at Sydney’s University of Technology, found much of the CLCs’ work was preventative, resulting in “invisible” and indirect benefits to society.

“It is indeed a truism that the fence at the top of the cliff not only saves lives, but it is also much cheaper than the ambulance at the bottom,” The Economic Value of Community Legal Centres report said.

Commissioned by the Combined Com-munity Legal Centres Group NSW and the National Association of Community Legal Centres, the authors, Nicholas Edgerton and Emma Partridge, examined case studies of CLC clients.

“The quantitative value of CLC services for the clients involved was in the order of 100 times greater than the amount that CLC services are funded per client,” the report found.

This value was even higher when taking into account the wider qualitative benefits that accrued to the broader society and into the future, it said.

Federation of Community Legal Centres executive officer Pauline Spencer said CLC workers knew their work was cost-effective.

“But in terms of costing the economic value, it was quite stunning what economic value CLCs bring to the community,” she said.

“Intuitively, CLC workers know that the early intervention work they specialise in can have huge positive impacts on people’s lives.

“For example, dealing with a tenancy issue can keep someone in housing which can keep them in a job which can keep the family together ... a whole lot of issues are interrelated.”

LIV Council member and former presi-dent Bill O’Shea said the report highlighted the value of the work by CLCs and “why we should be maximising the public purpose fund to make more [money] available”.

“CLCs run legal clinics where people can bring along legal issues and get advice on them before they blow up,” Mr O’Shea said.

Ms Spencer said the report would be used to demonstrate to politicians at all levels the value of CLCs.

She has previously criticised the federal government for not increasing CLC funding in its most recent Budget, saying the centres could not keep pace with costs.

In 2004/05, CLCs across the nation received $32.2 million of federal and state government funds.

The 129 centres provided more than 340,000 services to almost 180,000 clients, representing a national average cost per client of about $180.

The report said CLC clients were most likely disadvantaged people whose legal problems were typically part of a number of interlinked problems.

“Much of the work of CLCs is preventative in that it reduces the need or extent to which individuals are ‘or could be’ involved with the legal system.

“CLC work therefore produces ‘invisible’ benefits including how an individual accesses the publicly funded legal system and welfare services, and how that individ-ual is able to contribute to society in the future,” the report said.

As well as avoided costs, other benefits that were more difficult to value were those of CLCs providing a social service, welfare, assistance and protection of or information to citizens.

The report said CLCs provided “enormous value for money, with benefits to individuals and society far outweighing the public funds CLCs expend”.

“Through collaboration with the government, legal aid, the private legal profession and community partners, CLCs deliver beneficial outcomes for their clients, contribute to an improved justice system and deliver benefits to society as a whole.”

An assessment of community legal centres shows they provide excellent value for money.

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