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Day-to-Day Legal Stuff

Day-to-day life can throw up a lot of legal problems, and cause you heaps of stress. Dramas with your job, Centrelink or bills can feel like they are taking over your life. Even if you think you do not need legal help, sometimes seeing a lawyer can make a difference.

To find out more, watch the video below, and look at the links at the bottom of this page.

Civil law: Day-to-day legal problems

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Youth Centre

Outside shot of Weave Youth, Family, and Community Centre - Sydney. Two kids skateboard up to the entrance. Inside a youth worker (Ian) walks into the youth centre and sees Sara at the Centre's computer terminal.

Youth worker:

Hey Sara. How you doing?

Sara:

Yeah. I'm good

Youth worker:

You found anything yet?

Sara:

Still looking. Doesn't help that my phone's been cut off.

Youth worker:

Oh-um...look would you like to come in for a chat?

Sara:

Sure (She shrugs her shoulders, picks up her bag and follows Ian through the office).

Youth centre office

Sara and youth worker are sitting on two lounges talking.

Sara:

Things were pretty full on at home. I'd had enough of all the fights so I walked out. Just threw my stuff into a bag ... didn't think much more than that. So I've been staying with mates, but need to find somewhere else.

Youth worker:

Well that's alright. Look we can see what we can find. Um, I'm going to make a few calls. Just something short term. Have you got enough cash to get by?

Sara:

Yeah, enough. But I think the phone company's cut me off. They're saying I owe heaps of money.

Sara pulls out a pile of letters from her bag and hands them to the youth worker. He reads them.

Youth worker:

Oooh! That is a lot. Look I think you'd best see a lawyer about this.

Sara:

Seriously? (Looks surprised)

Youth worker:

Seriously

Sara:

You really think I need a lawyer?

Youth worker:

Yeah, I do - just to see what your options are – especially when they start talking about legal action! You can see a free lawyer at the community centre. I can set up an appointment for you if you like.

Sara:

Yeah sure

Youth worker:

Great

Best for Kids civil law day to day legal problems.

Lawyer to camera

The lawyer appears in a smaller screen on a textured pink background. "Legal Aid Lawyer" is written at the bottom of the screen. Down the side of the screen the words 'Civil Law' and 'Criminal Law' are highlighted as the lawyer says them. As the lawyer continues to speak, the words "Centrelink, Debts, Fines, Work, Discrimination" appear on the screen underneath the Civil Law heading.

Lawyer:

There are different kinds of laws. Most people know about criminal law – that's if you get in trouble with the police. But there is also civil law, for day-to-day stuff: things like problems with Centrelink, dealing with debts, fines, problems at work or discrimination.

Legal Aid Outreach Clinic in Community Centre

Sara is at her appointment with a legal aid lawyer. The lawyer is looking at paperwork (phone bill and letters) while Sara speaks.

Sara:

Yeah ...not sure you can help but Ian thought it was a good idea. He told me to show you these letters from the phone company. That last one says something about taking me to court. And that's the last one they sent.

The lawyer reads through the letters and bills.

Sara:

Like, I can't even phone them because my phone's been cut off - I guess coz I haven't paid the bill.

Lawyer:

(wry smile) That will happen.

Sara:

But I really need the phone for work. I've got a new job, working in a restaurant. I've gotta call them Monday.

The lawyer examines the letters.

Lawyer:

Ok, let's have a look at this bill from the phone company. I can see it's a lot of money they reckon you owe. It looks like you're going over your data allowance and that's where the extra charges are coming from.

Sara:

I don't understand how coz I thought I was on a $40 cap, and now after just six months I have this ridiculous bill. I'm supposed to have unlimited data!

Lawyer:

I'll have a look at the contract you signed up for. It sounds like the phone company might have misled you about thinking that your bill wouldn't go over $40 a month and that you had unlimited data.

Lawyer to camera

Lawyer appears in a smaller box on a textured pink background. As she talks the following words appear beside her image:

- Under 18
- Contract must benefit you

If you're under the age of 18, the law says that you'll only be responsible for the contract you signed if you were old enough to understand what it meant for you. The law also says that the contract has to benefit you. That means that if it made things difficult for you, was unfair, or unreasonable, then make sure you see a lawyer as the contract may not be valid.

Legal Aid Outrerach Clinic in Community Centre

Lawyer is talking to Sara.

Lawyer:

That means if you couldn't afford your mobile phone contract and didn't understand at the time, or weren't explained the details of your phone plan, you could write to the phone company and ask to get out of your contract. I can help you do this, and negotiate with them. But if that doesn't work then we can see if we can get some of the debt reduced based on your circumstances.

It's really important that you do something about it because if the debt remains unpaid they can take you to court about it, and then even start taking money out of any wages you might start earning. It could also go on to your credit file, which could make it hard for you to get a loan or another phone contract out in the future.

Sara pulls another letter from her bag and hands it to the lawyer.

Sara:

What about this one? It's from Centrelink. But I don't really understand it. (The lawyer reads the letter.)

Lawyer:

I can see that Centrelink say you owe them money because you stopped going to school. Is that right?

Sara:

I didn't realise I had to tell Centrelink when I stopped going to school. I thought I could just tell them when I started my new job. I don't even want Centrelink anymore, but I can't afford to pay them back now.

Lawyer:

I understand. Centrelink rules can be really tricky. What we can do is we can get a copy of your Centrelink files. Then we can do a review of the debt with Centrelink - to check whether Centrelink have come up with the right amount, or even if you do owe any money.

Sara:

So what if I still owe them the money?

Lawyer:

Well, then we can write to Centrelink to point out all the special circumstances about what was happening in your life, like when things were bad at home and you stopped going to school, and that you didn't know you had to tell Centrelink that you stopped going. If that works, then Centrelink will cancel the debt.

Sara:

OK

Lawyer:

But if not, we can talk about what else we can do. There are a few options, but it's important that you deal with these things because, like the phone debt, you can end up in court. And in some cases with Centrelink debt, you can even get a criminal charge.

Sara:

(Sarcastic) Oh great.

Lawyer to camera

Lawyer appears in a smaller box on a textured pink background. As she talks the following words "Centrelink Rules" appear beside her image:

Lawyer:

Centrelink have really strict rules. It's easy to get cut off from your youth allowance payments, or find out that you owe money, if you don't keep your appointments with Centrelink, or let them know when your circumstances have changed. So it is really important that you see a lawyer if you have any problems with your Centrelink payments.

Legal Aid Outreach Clinic in Community Centre

Back to the scene of Sara's appointment with the legal aid lawyer.

Lawyer:

So about this job on Monday? Sounds good!

Sara:

Yeah I reckon. Just food preparation to start with, just in the kitchen. I won't be getting paid for the first two weeks while I'm on a trial. Then, they reckon I'll be on about two hundred and sixty a week if I get the job.

Lawyer:

I'm glad you told me that – because it is actually illegal for your boss to have you work an unpaid trial. It's always good to sign a contract before you start, so you know what your rights are. But if you don't get around to doing that, then you should make sure that you know what you're getting paid and what you're entitled to. For example, there are laws that say that you must be paid at least a minimum amount. And how long you can take breaks for, and things like overtime. Sometimes bosses try and pay people less, especially if you're young! But come back and see me if you have any issues.

Sara:

Yeah. Okay.

Lawyer appears in a box in a textured pink background. As she talks the words "employment issue" appear beside her image. As she continues to talk the following words appear as she speaks:

- Underpaid
- Penalty rates

Lawyer to camera:

A lawyer can help sort out employment issues too. Sometimes we find problems with young people's pay. For example, being underpaid or not being paid penalty rates.

New still screen on the textured pink background. As the lawyer speaks the following words appear on the screen:

- Bullying
- Threats
- Yelled at
- Teased

Lawyer voice over:

Bullying or harassment in the workplace, is another issue that often affects young people. This can include where you have been threatened, teased or yelled at by your boss or workmates.

New still screen. Lawyer appears in a box on a textured pink background. As she talks the words "Bullying is against the law" appear beside her image.

Lawyer:

Bullying behaviour is against the law and bosses have a legal duty to stop it.

Legal Aid Outreach Clinic in Community Centre

Return to the scene of Sara's appointment with the lawyer.

Lawyer:

Is there anything else you are worried about?

Sara:

Well I suppose just these. (Sara pulls more bills out of her bag and hands them to the lawyer.) I'm not sure how I'm going to pay them, or what I should pay off first.

Sara holds up more letters.

Lawyer:

I think it might be good for you to see a financial counsellor. They can help you sort through your money issues and help you manage and budget your money. It won't cost you a thing and you can usually get an appointment here at the Centre.

Sara:

Yeah okay.

---END---

END NOTES:

This story and the characters in it are made up and not based on any actual people or their situation.

For more information about this video visit www.bestforkids.org.au

Special thanks to Weave Youth and Community Services for filming at their centre

The information in this video is a general guide to the law. It should not be relied on as legal advice and it is recommended that you talk to a lawyer about your particular situation. At the time of production, the information shown is correct but may be subject to change.

If you need legal help or referral contact Law Access on 1300 888 529 or www.lawaccess.nsw.gov.au

Best for Kids: Produced by eegenda

Copyright Legal Aid NSW 2014

Helpful Links

Useful Publications

  • The Welfare Rights Network have a range of factsheets dealing with Centrelink problems. The fact sheets provide info on various benefits and how to solve problems and tackle issues such as overpayment and debt. They also the outline rights, obligations and entitlements of Centrelink clients.
  • Are you having problems with fines? A Legal Aid brochure on the law around fines and what to do if you're having trouble paying them.
  • Starting work? The following publications give you information about starting work and your entitlement, rights and responsibilities.
  • What you need to know when starting a new job A guide on starting a new job, including your entitlements, rights and responsibilities.
  • Starting your first job A booklet about starting your first job.
  • Employment checklist A checklist about your rights and entitlements when you're starting a new job.
  • Ripped Off – a guide for young workers about protecting your rights at work A publication about looking out for yourself at work, including making sure you are being paid correctly and receiving the correct entitlements.
  • To the max A fun comic with a serious message about managing your finances. It has contact details for financial support agencies. Also see online text version

Other Videos & Resources

  • Mobile phones Watch this video from the Lawstuff website about mobile phone plans and the law
  • The Adventures of Super Cuz (Aboriginal related issue)
    A radio program for primary-school aged kids following the adventures of Super Cuz – an animated superhero who shows up in sticky situations to give advice to young people with legal problems. Advice on issues including discrimination, consumer issues, bullying, problems with energy suppliers and dealing with the police.
  • So you've just got a new job Best practice video guide for young workers about rights and entitlements, put together by the Fair Work Ombudsman.
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