The legal issues Kiwis most often seek help with

4:45 pm on 28 November 2023
Citizens Advice Bureau logo

Photo: Citizens Advice Bureau

A report by the University of Otago's Civil Justice Centre has taken a look at the most common legal problems New Zealanders face and what kind of help they need.

Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) data fed into the report, with deputy chief executive Andrew Hubbard saying it highlighted wider concerns about the access to justice in New Zealand and potential barriers.

"It's really talking about the ability of people to have their legal rights and entitlements upheld."

He said there were many areas in everyday life where people had legal rights - employment, tenancy, parenting and consumer rights - and they often depended on the individual being able to enforce them.

"There is not very much third-party enforcement of those sorts of rights… and there are barriers like you don't have enough money to pay for a lawyer, you have got literacy issues, you have confidence issues, you don't have very much time."

He said the CAB often saw people whose rights had clearly been breached - they were not being paid minimum wage or they did not have a tenancy agreement, for example - but it was hard for them to enforce without the skills, knowledge, confidence or support.

The CAB receives around 200,000 in-depth enquiries each year, with around 5500 considered to be legal issues.

The research looked at a random sample of 8000 enquiries, working out what the common themes were and what could be done to make it easier for people to remedy them.

Hubbard said the most common areas people sought help for were consumer issues, employment, rental housing, wills and estates, and neighbourhood issues.

"There is very little access to representation if you do need it in those areas, and there are lots of issues where you don't need legal representation to resolve an issue."

Andrew Hubbard, Deputy CEO of Citizens Advice Bureau NZ

Citizens Advice Bureau deputy chief executive Andrew Hubbard Photo: YouTube screenshot

Consumer law was often nuanced and difficult for people to navigate, as they had to define what was fair and reasonable, he said.

"Let's say you've had a car or something else that's had a fault, you find out about your rights and go back to the trader or retailer and they say they aren't going to cover it, the onus is back on the buyer to pay a filing fee to go to the Disputes Tribunal, to present the evidence.

"We've seen a pattern where some retailers basically just say no to Consumer Guarantees Act claims because they know the barrier going further for people is so high."

In the last 10 years, the CAB had seen a huge increase in the number of employment enquiries, due to the gap between people who no longer belonged to a union but could not afford legal representation.

Hubbard said the report also identified a gap between a triage and information service and an advocacy service, with opportunities for more support services in between the likes of CAB and community law.

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