This website is for use by legal professionals (lawyers and law practices) only. If the information is used incorrectly, you could risk losing money or your legal rights. If you are a member of the public looking for free advice about your legal problems please visit legalaid.vic.gov.au, or contact our Legal Help advice line on 1300 792 387, Monday to Friday from 8 am to 6 pm. 

If you decide to use or rely on the information or make decisions based on the information in this website (which VLA does not recommend) VLA is not liable to you or any third party in any way for any loss, damage, costs or expenses you or they may suffer or incur as a result.

How duty lawyers can help with residential tenancy

How duty lawyers can help people who attend court with legal advice.

This page has information about the VLA civil duty lawyer service at VCAT. It explains:

Who are duty lawyers?

Duty lawyers are lawyers who are 'on duty' in courts or tribunals. They give free legal advice and other services to people who are representing themselves at a hearing on that day. Victoria Legal Aid provides a lawyer at the main Melbourne venue for the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

Triage

Ideally, the duty lawyer service is triaged by Legal Help first. Clients should be told to bring all relevant documents to VCAT with them, including VCAT hearing notices, and copies of any applications made to VCAT.

If Legal Help triage does not happen, the client will be triaged at VCAT by the VLA legal assistant and lawyer who is there on the day.

People who want to see the duty lawyer will be directed to the VLA legal assistant first. The legal assistant will do an intake and assessment to make sure that the matters that are referred to the duty lawyer fall within the service guidelines.

Assistance may be reasonably refused if, for example the client does not have a hearing on that day, has seen the duty lawyer before, or if another service is available (for example if a community legal centre lawyer is available).

Search for 'VCAT' in VLA's Legal Help Online(opens in a new window) to find available services.

Who is eligible for the duty lawyer service at VCAT

Appointments can be offered for this service where the person:

  • is a child
  • is in detention, or
  • meets the income test.

Income test

A person may meet the income test for the duty lawyer service if they:

  • get Centrelink as their primary source of income
  • have a current Health Care Card, (including a Low Income Health Care Card).

How much can a person earn?

The person will meet the income test if they are not supported by anyone else and their weekly income (after tax) is less than:

  • $850 if they have no dependent children, or
  • $1000 if they have a dependent partner or one dependent child.

These amounts are increased by $50 per week for each dependent child. For example, a sole parent with 2 dependent children can earn up to $1100 and still meet the income test.

If supported by another person

If the client is supported by a partner or another person they pass the income test if their combined income (after tax) is less than $1000 per week, with an additional $50 for each dependent child.

If there is family violence

Eligibility may be granted, despite being supported by a partner or other person the client cannot reasonably be expected to rely on that person to fund their legal costs due to family violence.

How client matters are prioritised

Priority is given to people who have a hearing on the day and who have not already received legal help. Matters may also be prioritised according to how urgent they are and the extent of the need.

The duty lawyer will give priority by considering:

  • whether the person has a hearing that day
  • whether the legal matter is one that fits within Victoria Legal Aid's policy guidelines about grants of legal assistance
  • whether the person has seen a duty lawyer before
  • if Victoria Legal Aid has previously refused a grant of legal assistance to that client.

In deciding whether a duty lawyer will represent someone, the duty lawyer service will also consider:

  • any special circumstances that may make it harder for the person to represent themselves such as, literacy or language difficulties, a disability or cultural considerations
  • whether legal arguments will provide a benefit to the client that they could not achieve for themselves.

Assistance that duty lawyers may give

Duty lawyers may give advice and assistance with:

  • urgent matters, for example if someone is in danger of losing their home in a rental matter
  • getting their hearing adjourned
  • making a preliminary assessment to see whether a person may be eligible for a grant of legal assistance
  • negotiating with the other party, or the other party's lawyer or representative, if they have one
  • filling out applications, drafting letter and other documents
  • representation in an interim hearing if appropriate
  • amending their documents or advising about amendments
  • getting a referral to another lawyer, and sometimes to community organisations or other support services.

This help will depend on a number of factors, including the time that is available.

Rental matters

A duty lawyer at VCAT may provide advice and assistance (including representation) to people who are:

  • residential tenants
  • rooming house residents, and
  • caravan park and Part 4A residential park residents.

Duty lawyers focus on rental matters where an order of possession is sought against a client, especially if this involves a 'renter fault' notice, such as if there is an allegation of danger to neighbours, nuisance, damage, or illegal use of premises.

Representation may be available where:

  • there is a real danger of a person losing their home
  • personal circumstances mean that self-representation is hard (such as disability or language difficulties), or
  • beneficial legal arguments may be offered by the duty lawyer that could not be effectively advanced by the client.

Guardianship and Administration

Assistance, including legal representation, may be provided for people who are subject to a guardianship and administration order, or to an application for such an order.

Working with children check matters

Duty lawyers can only provide limited assistance with working with children check matters. They may be able to assist by providing legal representation at a directions hearing, Otherwise, assistance will be limited to brief initial legal advice.

Subject to an initial assessment about merit and/or means, the duty lawyer may then refer the person to the Economic and Social Rights team for more comprehensive advice and/or assistance.

Note: Ongoing assistance can only be provided after this has been authorised VLA's Economic and Social Rights Program Manager, and is likely possible only in limited circumstances where there is merit in a VCAT Working with children check proceeding, and where that proceeding would have a significant systemic effect.

Civil Claims List

Consumer advice may be given although the duty lawyer will not be able to review large volumes of documents or assist in drafting documents.

Duty lawyers can not usually provide assistance in other VCAT matters, including:

  • taxation
  • TAC claims
  • owners corporations
  • planning and environment
  • domestic building disputes
  • retail tenancies
  • real property
  • business licenses
  • land valuation
  • legal practice
  • traffic accident complaints,
  • work cover complaints.

However, the duty lawyer may be able to give basic procedural advice in some of these areas.

Anti discrimination matters

Matters concerning discrimination, sexual harassment, victimisation or vilification should be referred to the Anti Discrimination Duty Lawyer Service.

Where to find a duty lawyer

As at May 2021, few in-person hearings are taking place at VCAT due to COVID-19 restrictions. So VLA is not currently providing in-person duty lawyer services. The way to access Duty Lawyer services is by callling Leal Help(opens in a new window).

We cannot provide assistance at all hearings. The earlier VLA is contacted, the better the chances of VLA being able to put an appropriate service in place.

More information

Legislation

Legal Aid Act 1978 (Vic)

  • s. 3—defines duty lawyer work
  • s. 26(1)—there is no charge for duty lawyer services

See Legal Aid Act 1978 (Vic).

Legal Help Online

For the VLA duty lawyer services, search for 'VCAT' in VLA's Legal Help Online(opens in a new window) to find the available services.

Updated