Prior to the rehearing, MinterEllison made written submissions to Victoria’s Office of Housing based primarily on the son’s medical condition. The submission focused on alleged breaches of Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act, specifically the attempt to deprive the family of housing due solely to the behaviour of a child with a diagnosed disability. The submission included a medical report from the son’s treating psychiatrist and an additional report from the school welfare officer.
Within two days of forwarding this submission to the Office of Housing, an offer was received (and accepted) to stay the proceedings pending a transfer of the family to a new property. In other words, the woman and her children would not be evicted from their home without being provided with alternative accommodation.
The family had previously sought a transfer without success, so this outcome came as a very welcome surprise to the client. On top of that, the VCAT proceedings were discontinued by consent after the transfer.
“Our initial objective was to prevent eviction,” said MinterEllison’s Pro Bono Director, Anton Hermann. “The end result was beyond our expectations but it does prove that when vulnerable clients obtain access to legal advice and representation, lawyers can make a real difference.”
This case demonstrates how issues of homelessness and mental illness can often intersect to compound the hardship faced by already vulnerable individuals and families. It’s also an example of an approach to homelessness based on preventing evictions, keeping people off the streets. This kind of preventative approach is one that Justice Connect advocates in response to the homelessness crisis in Australia.
“This was an example of the legal system working as it should,” Anton said. “Justice Connect was absolutely vital to this outcome because the client would never have had access to legal representation had it not been for Justice Connect’s deep networks in the homelessness sector and the sensitive way in which the initial referral was handled by Justice Connect’s highly skilled intake staff.”
Breaking cycles of disadvantage, alleviating poverty and improving access to justice for socially disadvantaged and marginalised groups are key focuses for MinterEllison’s Pro Bono & Community Investment Program.
The commitment of law firms like MinterEllison to improving access to justice, particularly for those who are experiencing – or at risk of – homelessness, is a response to continuing unmet legal need and a vital part of the Australian pro bono landscape.
About MinterEllison’s Pro Bono & Community Investment Program
MinterEllison provides outreach legal clinics for homeless people in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. The firm works together with JusticeConnect, PIAC, LawRight (formerly QPILCH) and the Welfare Rights Centre (SA) to deliver legal support at a number of community locations, including:
- The Magdalene Centre in Adelaide;
- The 139 Club in Brisbane;
- Central City Community Health Centre in Melbourne; and
- the Haymarket Clinic in Sydney.
Additionally, the firm seconds staff to Street Law ACT.