Championing a strong sector


Funding and reporting update 2020

Most community legal centres in NSW receive funding from both the Commonwealth and State Governments, although the amounts they receive from each vary enormously. There is no ratio or obvious connection between the amounts centres receive from different levels of government. Some community legal centres receive funding only from the Commonwealth and some receive funding only from the state government. One community legal centre member organisation receives no government funding at all.

Most Commonwealth and State Government funding for community legal centres is funnelled through a joint partnership agreement between the two governments, currently the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services (NPA), but soon to be superseded by the National Legal Assistance Partnership (NLAP). The current NPA expires June 2020, although the Commonwealth budget 2019 committed funding for a future NLAP (in fact, a slight increase on current funding). The NSW Government has committed State community legal centre funding to June 2022.

State CLC funding has been distributed between centres following recommendations from an independent assessment panel in 2019. The panel considered tenders from all centres (following a tender process in 2018) and made recommendations to the NSW Attorney General. The Attorney General largely adopted these recommendations and allocations are now fixed until June 2022.

Commonwealth funding to NSW community legal centres has not been subject to a tender and is distributed according to historical allocations. CLCNSW has advocated that centres be required to tender only once every period, for both Commonwealth and State funds, and that Commonwealth funding should be rolled in current amounts until the next State tender in 2021-22.

See here for a table of Commonwealth and State allocations to individual centres (noting the table includes only funding allocated via the NPA/NLAP).

Collectively, NSW community legal centres receive around $12.5m per year from the Commonwealth and around $14m from the NSW Government. Under the NPA/NLAP, the Commonwealth provides its funding for NSW centres to the State Department of Communities and Justice, which has delegated responsibility for the administration of this funding to Legal Aid NSW. Legal Aid NSW then transfers funding directly to individual community legal centres subject to a service agreement (contract).

Some centres receive funding from other Commonwealth and State Government departments as well. For example, several community legal centres receive funding from the Office of Fair Trading in the NSW Department of Customer Service. Grants from other departments are subject to different contracts. Some centres receive separate funding from the NSW Public Purpose Fund (PPF), funding for which is generated by the interest from solicitors’ trust accounts. It used to be the case that many centres received funding directly from the PPF, however most of this funding is now rolled into State funding.

Most community legal centres also receive what is known as SACS ERO. This is comprised of contributions from both the Commonwealth and State to enable community legal centres to increase salaries in line with Commonwealth industrial awards. From 2019 the Commonwealth has agreed to roll its share of SACS ERO into general funding. This helps secure this funding into the future and Community Legal Centres NSW has asked the NSW Government to do the same in relation to the State contribution.

The State allocations to community legal centres have been settled for the next three years (that is, to end June 2022), following a tender process. All centres will be guaranteed State income for this period.

From July 2019, community legal centres will receive their funding subject to a new kind of NSW Service Agreement (details here).

This agreement has been adopted by the NSW Government. This generic version will be adapted for application to community legal centres via the incorporation of sector-specific schedules. These schedules are currently being finalised.

The schedules include the planning and reporting template that all centres must use.

The community legal centre sector has traditionally been required to report on outputs or activities. Community Legal Centres NSW is encouraging funders to consider the impacts of our work rather than our outputs. To assist, Community Legal Centres NSW is developing an Impact Evaluation Framework to help centres measure the effect (or impacts) of their work. 


Collaborative service planning update 2020

‘Collaborative service planning’ is the term used to describe the ways that legal assistance providers coordinate their efforts to maximise services to clients and communities. It is intended to avoid unnecessary duplication and to help services use their limited resources in the most efficient and effective ways.

The current national Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services (known as the NPA) requires the states to engage in collaborative service planning. The 2018 Review of the NPA found that progress in this area around the country has been patchy. The Review observed that while there have been some positive developments in NSW, for example, the NSW Legal Assistance Forum (NLAF), there has been inadequate progress across all jurisdictions. This is certainly the view of Community Legal Centres NSW.

Access the Review of the NPA

Negotiations are underway to replace the NPA with a new National Legal Assistance Partnership (NLAP). The NLAP is likely to include enhanced focus on collaborative service planning.

The collaborative service planning process has been revitalised in NSW. It is being overseen by a working group that includes Legal Aid NSW, Community Legal Centres NSW, the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT), the Department of Justice, the Law and Justice Foundation, LawAccess and other relevant stakeholders. The working group is operating as a sub-committee of NLAF, and its work involves two key elements.

1. Legal needs analyses based on areas or catchments

The collaborative service planning working group has undertaken a mapping process to divide NSW into catchments that make sense locally. This has been a difficult process as different departments use different catchments, local health districts differ from local police area commands, and from Local Government Areas and court circuits etc. The working group has agreed to trial these catchments for non-metropolitan Sydney.

Metropolitan Sydney has yet to be divided up but a preliminary process is underway.

Once catchments have been settled, it is assumed that ‘legal needs data’ (that is, information on the kinds of legal assistance most needed by a population) will be developed in relation to each of these catchments. If the state government decides to conduct tenders for community legal centre services in the future, it is possible that a tender will be shaped around these new catchments. For example, centres may be asked to tender to provide services to a particular catchment or catchments. Alternatively, the government could allocate specific amounts to each catchment.

2. Data sharing across legal assistance providers

The working group is looking at ways that service data can be shared between partners to give a clearer picture of legal servicing across the state. There has been agreement that this process should not involve any additional data collection; it will be more a case of sharing information that is already being collected. It is likely that the Law and Justice Foundation will coordinate this data collection.

3. Pilot projects

Community legal centre funding is being applied to support four pilot collaborative service planning projects across NSW. These are being led by Elizabeth Evatt CLC for the Central Tablelands pilot, Shoalcoast CLC for the South Coast pilot, Northern Rivers CLC for Northern Rivers pilot and Central Coast CLC for the Central Coast pilot.

The pilot programs are focusing on two areas of service delivery: advice sessions delivered by outreach and community legal education.