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School of Law, UWS
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Newell, Steven --- "The Aged-care Rights Service including The Older Persons' Legal Service (OPLS)" [2008] ElderLawRw 3; (2008) 5 Elder Law Review, Article 3

The Aged-care Rights Service
including The Older Persons' Legal Service (OPLS)

The Aged-care Rights Service Inc (TARS) is a specialist community legal centre which provides non-legal advocacy in New South Wales for residents, and their carers, of Commonwealth subsidised Nursing Homes, Hostels and recipients of Community Aged Care Packages. TARS also provides advice and representation to residents of self care units and serviced apartments in Retirement Villages relating to matters arising from the Retirement Villages Act 1999 (NSW). This service can provide assistance with applications to the Consumer Trader and Tenancy Tribunal in these matters. We have represented a number of residents in applications to the Tribunal in the last twelve months and assisted others in the preparations of their applications. We also field a large number of enquiries from residents in relation to budgetary matters and the running and maintenance of villages.

In addition to our advocacy services TARS’ Education and Promotion Service provides comprehensive education and information on services offered by TARS, including: a comparison between aged care facilities and retirement villages and aged care options to residents, relatives and staff of aged care facilities, residents of retirements villages, seniors community groups, retirees, professional groups, community workers, students and educators of aged care and welfare courses, and staff of organisations dealing with issues affecting aged people.

TARS has been in existence for over twenty two years and stared its life as The Accommodations Rights Service. We have maintained the acronym TARS ever since.

In January 2008 Legal Aid NSW provided funding for the establishment of an Older Person’ Legal and Educational Program under its Community Legal Centres Funding Program.

The Older Persons’ Legal and Education Program is a partnership between Legal Aid NSW and TARS aimed at improving the access of older people to legal services through advice, assistance, advocacy representation and education.

Under the funding agreement TARS established The Older Persons' Legal Service (OPLS) which provides legal advice, assistance and education for older people in the community as well as residents of aged care facilities and retirement villages throughout NSW including rural regional and remote areas of the state.

This new legal service will be targeted at older people who are socially or economically disadvantaged. OPLS has a staff of two solicitors who will give telephone advice and in some circumstances provide casework and representation in the following matters:

• Consumer Issues - debt management, certain contractual matters and unfair contracts, provision of goods and services
• Human Rights matters - age discrimination, financial abuse by relatives and carers, assistance with access to the administration of State and Commonwealth Law and programs.
• Social Security - elderly members of the community will have access to legal assistance from OPLS if their interaction with the welfare systems fails.
• Alternative Decision Making - Issues involving the capacity to make financial care decisions. OPLS solicitors can provide legal advice and assistance in relation to Powers of Attorney and Enduring Guardianship issues.

The new service will also provide Community Legal Education (“CLE”) on topics of interest to older persons in community settings and at organised events. These education sessions will be followed by the opportunity for face to face advice for members of the community. These sessions will be limited by time and resource constraints at individual venues.

To date OPLS solicitors have taken approximately 800 calls from older persons with a wide range of legal issues and provided education in metropolitan and regional centres such as the Tweed and Lismore in the North of the State down to Tooleybuc and Moulamein in the South. We have targeted several other regional areas in New South Wales for CLE and advice sessions before the end of June 2009.

We have been working collaboratively with the Legal Aid Older Persons’ Legal and Education Unit. One such matter involved an elderly woman who sold her home and used the proceeds of sale as well as her savings to purchase a home in the name of her only relative who promised to “look after her” for as long as she wanted them to. The relationship soured and the older person was forced to leave the premises and is now living in rented premises on limited means. The relative now argues that the funds provide by the older person were a gift. We referred the matter to the Legal Aid unit. It is now using its resources to provide representation for the older person in proceedings before the Supreme Court. This example is evidence that the project is achieving one of its main objectives by providing a collaborative solution to issues affecting older persons.

It is our aim to obtain funding on a recurrent basis to maintain this worthwhile service the disadvantaged older persons in our community.

Steven Newell

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