13 Mar 2015

Waitemata Community Law Centre getting bigger

From New Zealand Society, 3:40 pm on 13 March 2015

Waitemata Law sign

“My lawyer was so lovely, cool, calm and collected. She said, ‘Go home and don’t worry. We will have it sorted’.”

– ”Angie” grateful client of the Waitemata Community Law Centre.

One of the country’s busiest community law centres is getting bigger, despite its frozen funding. Waitemata Community Law services lower socio-economic families, free of charge. It’s one of twenty-four centres in the country funded by central government.

Waitemata Law Angie talks to Paula Bold WilsonThe day I visit I meet a dedicated bunch of staff members and one very satisfied client. The client is “Angie” a diminutive woman, well into her retirement years and with a husband who’s poorly. She is initially very nervous talking to me, but she soon warms to her story… a tale of troubles with a power company.

Image: Waitemata Community Law Centre client “Angie” talks Centre Manager, Paula Bold-Wilson.

Twelve months ago Angie signed up with a new power company on the strength of one visit from a very persuasive door to door salesman. He promised her cash of 150 dollars if she joined… money she says she never saw. Then later in the year Angie discovered that she was going to have to move. It was a matter that was out of her hands. So she got back in touch with the energy company.

After that Angie started receiving a demand for an extra 95 dollars, the penalty for not giving the company a month’s notice. Apparently that bit was on the back of the form she signed in front of the door to door bloke. But she says she never saw it, and he never mentioned it.

Anyway the company kept phoning. It said the matter would be put into the hands of debt collectors. Angie went on anti-depressants. Finally she turned to her local Citizen’s Advice Bureau who sent her off to the Waitemata Community Law Centre. The matter was quickly sorted by the professionals. It only took a letter to the power company and Angie was blissfully relieved.

Angie is just one of more than four and a half thousand people the centre helps each year. Five hundred thousand Aucklanders live in the Waitemata centre’s zone… west Auckland, and right up into the rural areas, north of Auckland. There are three other community law centres in greater Auckland, plus youth and disability centres.

Waitemata Law Volunteer law student Simon Lamain and centre lawyer Kirsty BroderickFor her troubles, Kirsty Broderick, Angie’s lawyer, got a card and chocolates from her grateful client. It’s all in a day’s work for Kirsty after two years work at the centre full time.

Image: Centre lawyer Kirsty Broderick (R) with Legal student volunteer Simon Lamain (L)

Centre Manager Paula Bold-Wilson says the five lawyers on her staff have a strong sense of social justice, otherwise they would not work there. She says many of the centre’s clients have already come up against societal barriers before turning up at her centre: they can be people facing bewildering issues at court, who find themselves in debt , or who’re dealing with immigration challenges they just don’t understand. She says the case-load at the Waitemata Community Law Centre is growing and becoming more complex, and all the work is being done on an annual budget that’s been frozen since 2009.

“Just a little gift to say a BIG thank you for your loving kindness and support in my time of stress and need. I really appreciate your valuable time, getting this sorted. Love Angie x"

– Thank you note from centre client "Angie" to centre lawyer Kirsty, accompanying a box of chocolates.

Welocome sign