The Midland Debt & Legal Advocacy Service (MIDLAS) came into existence as a legal entity on 5/10/89, originally incorporated as the Midland Debt Counselling Service. At the time the organisation only comprised one Financial Counsellor and a part-time Administrator.
In order to reflect changes in the Constitution and forward the development of services provided, on 1/11/96 the name was officially changed to Midland Information, Debt & Legal Advice Service (and a solicitor was employed at the time for a period of 12 months).
In 2001 the Tenants Advocacy Service was set up, providing assistance to vulnerable clients at risk of eviction and advocating for the homeless, the majority of which being Indigenous families.
In 2004 discussions at a managerial level determined that the aspect of ‘legal advice’ ought not to be emphasised as the solicitor (now via the Legal Service which began in 2005) works closely with advocates, caseworkers and the financial counsellor (along with other dedicated personnel and volunteers).
2006 saw the commencement of the Disability Advocacy Service, under the Nation Disability Advocacy Program and by this time service delivery for the provision of emergency relief had been well established.
As the acronym MIDLAS had become well know in the area, ‘advice’ was substituted for ‘advocacy’ at a special resolution attended by members of the organisation. A Certificate of Incorporation on Change of Name for Midland Information, Debt & Legal Advocacy Service Inc became official on 31st October 2005.
Whist already declared as a charitable organisation, further changes to the constitution were approved and made official in 2007 and as a result MIDLAS has been endorsed by the ATO as a Public Benevolent Institution and a Deductible Gift Recipient.
MIDLAS is working with Centrelink to build a strong connection so that we can better support individuals participating in income management schemes. MIDLAS has arranged to give priority to these clients. After introducing budgeting measures, Financial Counsellors will determine whether voluntary income management may be an option for the client and the relevant information is provided.
Financial Counsellors face a range of difficult issues which appear to stem from a fundamental lack of engagement on behalf of the client. Some clients find it difficult to manage a diary, let alone a budget and can often miss scheduled meetings. A lack of financial literacy in many clients means that they require intensive and ongoing support to ensure that the measures introduced by the Financial Counselling team are effective and sustainable.
Three years on, twenty three clients still identified the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) as their primary cause of hardship. Mortgage foreclosures and car repossessions continue to increase as highly geared families and individuals find debt repayments to be unmanageable. The typical time-lag on expansionary monetary and fiscal policy will ensure that individuals will face the ongoing effects of the global recession for some years to come. With personal savings accounts now drained and debts far from relieved, bankruptcy remains an option, with more individuals choosing to declare voluntary insolvency.
The demand for MIDLAS services continues to increase – not only have we found ourselves helping the vulnerable and disadvantaged members of the community on non-existent, low, or fixed incomes, we are now being approached by middle and high income earners who are in hardship as they have lost their capacity to earn, though retained high levels of debt.
Following the removal of MIDLAS’ household income threshold, we have been able to ascertain the level of hardship that mid to high income earners are experiencing; and have found that the affect of uncertainty in the state of global financial markets is just as crippling. MIDLAS is now preparing for any repercussions that may arise out of the impending Carbon Tax.
Most clients on income support report that they cannot sustain their lifestyle on the basic payment. Many clients on income support have been assisted to set up on Centrepay deductions for utilities and other regular payments. Several clients have been recommended to apply for Voluntary Income Management. Rising private rental costs have impacted largely on clients on income support. In accordance with the holistic service, appropriate referrals to MIDLAS tenancy advocates are made for clients who may be eligible for assistance with priority housing applications or who are experiencing tenancy issues.
Clients often present at MIDLAS as a result of relationship stress or breakdown. Couples generally become familiar with a standard of living based on a dual income, and separation can have a significant impact on families; particularly when one parent has the sole care of dependents and is unable to work.
Upon such relationship breakdown and separation, division of debt may not represent the division of income. Many women who present with outstanding utility bills have been issued the responsibility of payment, after a partner has left the property, because the account was created in her name.
Behaviour that may constitute financial abuse is reasonably common among MIDLAS clients. Often one member of a household will have to use his or her income to pay costs such as rent, utilities and food, without contribution from the other partner’s income. This behaviour may also constitute domestic abuse.
Relationships stress, separation and the familiar “make-up-and-break-up” partner cycle can become a confusing situation and the inability to clearly and effectively communicate actual income creates a very considerable risk of Centrelink ‘fraud’. Many individuals in this situation come to us with little or no knowledge of their financial situation and are shocked to discover the debt that they have become personally liable for.
Click here to view the MIDLAS Client Service Charter.