Who do we help?

We direct our limited resources to people in our community who are vulnerable in some way.

We give one-on-one legal help to people who don’t have much money. We’ll ask you some questions about your financial situation. If you’re a student, a beneficiary, unemployed or on a low income, it’s likely that we can give you initial one-on-one legal help.

We help people facing particular kinds of serious legal issues, such as Child, Youth and Family or Work and Income matters, debt or credit problems, or criminal charges.

We also help people who are vulnerable in other ways, for example if you have trouble reading, if you’re homeless, transient or in a crisis living situation, if you come from a refugee background, if you’re adversely affected by disability, mobility issues or mental illness, or if you’re experiencing violence.

What legal problems can we help with?

Community Law can help with all kinds of legal problems, including:

  • Money trouble (Work and Income, credit and debt, fines and court fines, problems with goods and services)
  • Tenancy and housing issues
  • Employment problems
  • Māori land
  • Issues for young people (family matters, problems at school, youth justice)
  • Health-related matters (ACC, health and disability, mental health)
  • Legal issues for community organisations (legal entities, leases, employment matters)
  • Human, civil and privacy rights
  • Family matters (caring for children, Child, Youth and Family)
  • Domestic violence and other forms of violence
  • Criminal matters

What legal problems can’t we help with?

We can’t help with problems that are about increasing your wealth.

This means, most Community Law Centres:

  • don’t give legal advice on property or business issues
  • don’t give legal advice to landlords or employers

Many Community Law Centres:

  • don’t give legal advice about wills or trusts
  • can’t witness relationship property agreements or enduring powers of attorney, but can give you initial legal information about these areas of the law.

There may be another reason we have to refer you to other help, for example, if the Community Law Centre has a conflict of interest.

What’s a conflict of interest?

Like all law firms, a Community Law Centre must not act for more than one party in a dispute.

If your local Community Law Centre has already helped the other “party” (person) to your dispute, they may not be able to see you. They’ll help you contact a different Community Law Centre in your region, or help you to find a different lawyer.

Is this legal aid?

No. People sometimes refer to our service as “Legal Aid”, but we don’t generally provide Legal Aid services.

Legal Aid is a scheme run by the Ministry of Justice. It’s government funding to pay for lawyers for people going to court who cannot afford a lawyer. Legal Aid is available for people facing criminal charges, and those with a civil legal problem or family dispute that may go to court, as well as for Waitangi Tribunal proceedings.

Community Law Centres, on the other hand, are independent charities. Although we receive much of our funding through government sources, we are not connected in any way to the public service.

Importantly, our services are free, whereas people often have to repay some or all of their Legal Aid back to the government. Find out more about Legal Aid in the Community Law Manual.

If you need a lawyer and can’t afford one, you can come to us for initial free legal help first. We can then refer you to the right Legal Aid lawyer. Some of our Community Law Centres are now providing some Legal Aid services in some areas of law. You need to contact your local Community Law Centre to find out if they can assist you with a legal problem under Legal Aid.

Contact Legal Aid here.

Am I eligible to get representation in court?

In some situations, we’ll represent a person as their lawyer.

We only do this if we have enough resources, and usually reserve it for serious issues, such as when a person is experiencing:

  • loss of income
  • loss of housing
  • harm in the home or community
  • a serious social justice issue

We can also make exceptions where people have a legitimate reason for high living costs, such as a person with a disability.

Where else can I find a lawyer?

Community Law Centres can refer you to a lawyer who has the right skills for your kind of legal problem.

If you need a lawyer, be aware that they specialise in different areas of law. Some lawyers will charge for an initial meeting so ask about their charges first.

You can also find a lawyer near you using the “Find a Lawyer” search tool on the New Zealand Law Society website.

Where else can I get help?

  • Complaint Line is a gateway website for the many disputes resolution agencies in New Zealand.
  • Citizens Advice Bureau: If your problem isn’t a legal problem, you can get free information, advice and support at your local Citizens Advice Bureau. CABs can put you in contact with the many social and community support organisations in your area.
  • Ministry of Justice: You can find information about courts, tribunals, fines, criminal records, legal aid and other justice services here.
  • Legal Aid: If you can’t afford a lawyer, and Community Law can’t give you any more help, you may be eligible for Legal Aid.
  • Legislation Online: You can access all New Zealand Acts, Bills and Regulations at Legislation Online. You can read and download any of these free of charge.
  • New Zealand Parliament: If you want to track the progress of particular Bills, or you want to know more about our system of government, check out the New Zealand Parliament website.
  • Not sure where to start? If you’re not sure exactly what you’re looking for, or where to find it, ask your local Community Law Centre.

If you search our Resources, you might also find the answer to your question, not to mention links to many useful resources, websites and organisations.

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