Private solicitors wanting to help farmers and small businesses struck by 2020’s devastating bushfire season can now access government funding to provide legal services.
Under the Bushfire Legal Aid Scheme – with funding allocated by the federal government – an Early Resolution Assistance of up to $2000 is available in professional fees for a range of legal issues including banking, insurance and contract disputes, credit and debt, commercial leases, planning and building law, and entitlements to government grants.
To be eligible for this support funding, an applicant must be a primary producer or small business owner, have their farm or business located in a designated LGA and a legal issue arising from the 2019/2020 bushfire season. If someone has experienced more than one bushfire related issue, they may receive multiple approvals for legal services.
Legal Aid has said funding extensions will also be available in “reasonable circumstances”.
Firms acting on a pro bono basis for clients who qualify for this Scheme can also apply for disbursements of up to $5000 through Grants Online.
Regional Legal Aid solicitor Kyrie Couch told LSJ in 2020 of attending community meetings in the Port Macquarie area, where many had lost everything, that there was “a blatant state of shock and not knowing where to start is how they present to legal services”.
Last year the Disaster Response Legal Service NSW, a partnership between Legal Aid, the Law Society of NSW, community legal centres, and the NSW Bar Association was launched to offer free legal advice to those affected by the deadly bushfire season.
Legal Aid’s disaster response service has also operated across NSW since 2010. This service provided legal assistance throughout the bushfire season for people navigating insurance claims, tenancy issues, financial hardship, social security entitlements and employment issues.
Private practitioners need to be registered for Legal Aid NSW’s Grants Online website to make an application under the Bushfire Legal Aid Scheme. The list of eligible LGAs is available at: legalaid.nsw.gov.au/for-lawyers/resources-and-tools/bushfire-legal-aid-scheme. For more information on the scheme email: [email protected]