ACT Council of Social Service Inc.

Justice | Equity | Social Inclusion | Reconciliation

Media release: Unmet needs key concern of community services

1 July 2013

Research released today involving over 500 community services across the nation finds the biggest unmet needs in our community are in the areas of housing and homelessness, legal assistance, emergency relief, youth services, domestic violence and sexual assault.

Commenting following the release of the report, Susan Helyar, Director of the ACT Council of Social Service, said, "The findings from this national research reflect our local experience.

"In Canberra the biggest challenge people living on low incomes face is getting access to affordable housing that is suitable, stable and secure for the long term. ACTCOSS recently made a submission to the ACT Government encouraging development of a cross-portfolio approach to planning and resourcing homelessness support services and increasing affordable housing.

"The national survey found legal assistance services turn away 20 per cent of people eligible for support. This finding sits alongside other research by the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW in conjunction with National Legal Aid that found people living with disadvantage (disability, mental health and substance use issues, Cultural and Linguistic Diversity, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples) do not get adequate support to assert their legal rights or assistance with legal problems. The Legal Assistance Forum in Canberra will be hosting a symposium in August to identify what changes are needed to address this lack of access to legal assistance.

"The gaps in access to emergency financial assistance, youth services, domestic violence and sexual assault services are a huge concern to ACTCOSS and our members. Good responses to people seeking these services will reduce harm and set people up well to develop the skills and resources needed to build their independence, participate in their community and be resilient in the face of other life challenges.

"Turning people away from services is an opportunity cost too expensive to ignore. Turning people away increases the risk of long term harm and drives ongoing demand for crisis responses that are not only expensive, they are less effective because they can only respond to symptoms not causes.

"It is good to see some improvement from previous years in the capacity of services to meet the need for mental health support, but unmet need remains," said Ms Helyar.

The report also looked at how services are coping with ongoing unmet demand. Sixty five per cent of services reported staff and/or volunteers needing to work extra hours to bridge the gap between service capacity and community need.

Ms Helyar noted, "The generosity and commitment of volunteers, donors and staff who go above and beyond reasonable expectations shines through in the report.

"The significant support for establishment of a national regulator for charities and not-for-profit organisations and for services to be able to demonstrate the impact of their work shows managers and executives welcome scrutiny to ensure their organisation is making the best use of their resources to deliver maximum benefit in their communities.

"But staff and managers are worried about both lack of funding and uncertainty about future funding. It's hard to evaluate, plan and build partnerships with non-government funders when policy and funding arrangements work on short term cycles. Often funding is for only 12 months at any one time, and even long term funding cycles last only 3-4 years."

Ms Helyar concluded, "This report affirms the call by ACTCOSS in our 2013-14 Budget submission for a long term, cross-portfolio approach to planning to meet community needs and investing the resources needed to respond early enough and for long enough to make a real difference in the lives of people seeking support. We will only reduce demand over time if we have a coherent investment strategy." 

A copy of the report can be downloaded at:

For more information or comment please contact
Susan Helyar, Director, on 0448 791 987 or 02 6202 7200.