Where to get help

See also listing of relevant organisations at the end of Understanding disability and the law.

Villamanta Disability Rights Legal Service

Villamanta is a state-wide community based legal service that works only on disability related legal issues, with a primary focus on issues that affect people who have an intellectual disability. Villamanta:

has a toll-free advice and information line;

provides casework on disability related legal issues;

assists with appeals to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) about decisions made by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS);

provides education to the community about the rights of people who have a disability;

lobbies government and other bodies about laws and policies that affect people with disability;

sells books about disability related issues (see Villamanta’s website: www.villamanta.org.au);

provides free information about a range of disability rights topics (available on the website);

provides training for service providers on a range of disability rights issues (available for a fee).

For Villamanta’s contact details, seeContacts”.

Mental Health Legal Centre

The Mental Health Legal Centre (MHLC) is a community legal centre that provides a free, confidential and independent legal service to people in Victoria who have experienced mental illness or have had contact with mental health services. The MHLC also promotes the rights of people who have a psychiatric or psychological disability through legal advocacy.

The MHLC provides critical services to vulnerable Victorians. Through a network of interconnected services, the MHLC supports diverse groups of clients to navigate their legal and social problems. The MHLC’s services include:

a day service: from Tuesday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm, MHLC staff can provide support, guidance and information over the telephone (9629 4422);

a night service: a legal advice telephone line operates every Tuesday and Thursday from 6 pm to 8 pm (1800 555 887);

legal representation at the Mental Health Tribunal (MHT): at MHT and VCAT hearings, lawyers from the MHLC can represent people on compulsory treatment orders;

the Inside Access Program: the MHLC runs legal clinics within correctional and forensic facilities in Victoria to provide free civil legal services to prisoners with cognitive impairment/mental health issues (seeInside Access Program”);

Advance Statement assistance: lawyers from the MHLC can help people make Advance Statements;

the Bolton Clarke Homeless Persons Program: MHLC lawyers work with this program to provide legal support and representation to people who are at-risk of, or are experiencing, homelessness.

For more information about the MHLC, see https://mhlc.org.au.

Inside Access Program

The Inside Access Program is run by the MHLC. It provides free civil legal services to people with cognitive impairment and mental health issues within correctional and forensic facilities in Victoria.

Inside Access provides practical legal assistance while people are incarcerated with a view to supporting an easier transition to the community on release. Through Inside Access, MHLC also undertakes research, law reform and policy work in relation to issues of mental health and the law.

Inside Access also provides legal education programs to prisoners in Victorian Correctional facilities and forensic patients within the Thomas Embling Hospital to help them better understand and exercise their legal rights.

Independent Mental Health Advocacy

Independent Mental Health Advocacy (IMHA) is a state-wide advocacy service for people receiving, or at risk of receiving, compulsory mental health treatment. The service is provided to people in inpatient, community and forensic settings across Victoria. IMHA is provided by Victoria Legal Aid but is not a legal service. The service is free, confidential and independent.

Advocates support and assist people to make or participate in decisions about their assessment, treatment, care and recovery, including:

engaging with consumers to discuss and clarify their preferences and wishes;

providing information about the mental health system and assisting consumers to understand their rights and to act on them;

engaging and advocating directly with the person’s treating team, family or other support services, or provide support and coaching for consumers to self-advocate;

providing referrals to other services.

People who are currently receiving, or may be at risk of receiving, compulsory treatment in Victoria and would like support, or would like to know more about getting support for another person, should contact IMHA.

You can also contact IMHA to find out when an advocate will be visiting a mental health facility. (SeeContacts”.)

Disability Discrimination Legal Service

The Disability Discrimination Legal Service (DDLS) is a community legal centre that is working towards the eradication of disability discrimination. The DDLS facilitates and promotes justice for people with disabilities by:

assisting to prepare and lodge complaints about disability discrimination to the relevant human rights commission;

running discrimination cases at VCAT, the Federal Circuit Court and the Federal Court;

running community legal education sessions for professional and community groups to raise disability awareness and provide information on the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) and Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic); and

conducting community development research projects to investigate and challenge current social, economic and legislative issues affecting people with disabilities in the community.

DDLS handles discrimination cases with the intention of achieving a positive outcome for clients and setting precedents that will benefit a large number of people with disabilities. A priority of DDLS casework is raising public awareness of disability discrimination, so cases with potential for a high level of public interest are given preference.

Also, DDLS solicitors provide free legal advice over the telephone. The DDLS has an information and referral service. DDLS also provides volunteers and students with training, support and supervision to assist it to provide these services. For DDLS’s contact details, seeContacts”.

Association of Employees with a Disability

The Association of Employees with a Disability (AED) provides free legal advocacy for people with a disability who experience difficulties and/or discrimination in the areas of employment and education. The AED also provides representation at the AAT for reviews of National Disability Insurance Agency decisions. The AED is a state-wide service. It also provides a legal service every Wednesday night from 6.30 pm onwards. This service is staffed by volunteer legal practitioners under the supervision of AED staff. Appointments are necessary. Although the focus of the AED’s work is to seek legal remedies in cases of disability discrimination, the AED operates within a human rights framework to promote and protect the rights of people with a disability and give them better access to justice in employment, and education through the legal arena. For the AED’s contact details, seeContacts”.

Other sources of legal advice

A private lawyer, community legal centre or Victoria Legal Aid may also be able to assist with legal issues relating to disability, treatment or discrimination (see Legal services that can help).

Victorian Health Complaints Commissioner

The Victorian Health Complaints Commissioner (“HC Commissioner”) resolves complaints about health services and the handling of health information in Victoria. The office began operating on 1 February 2017 under the Health Complaints Act 2016 (Vic). The HC Commissioner resolves complaints through alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, but can also conduct investigations. The HC Commissioner’s service is free and impartial.

On 1 July 2014, the Victorian Mental Health Complaints Commissioner commenced operating as a specialist body to receive and resolve complaints about public mental health services. The HC Commissioner continues to receive complaints about private sector mental health service providers.

Under the Health Records Act 2001 (Vic), the HC Commissioner deals with complaints about the handling of health information and breaches of privacy in relation to health information in both the public and private sectors and access to health records held by private organisations. (See alsoHealth Records Act” in Privacy and your rights.) For the HC Commissioner’s contact details, seeContacts”.

Victorian Disability Services Commissioner

The Victorian Disability Services Commissioner (“DS Commissioner”) is an independent oversight body established under the Disability Act. Since 1 July 2019, the DS Commissioner has accepted enquiries and complaints.

The DS Commissioner assesses, conciliates and investigates complaints about registered Victorian disability services, including:

DHHS in-kind and DHHS-funded disability services;

TAC-funded disability services; and

any complaints about the provision of disability services dated before 30 June 2019 (note that for complaints dated before 30 June 2019, this may include complaints about NDIS-funded disability services and communication with local area coordinators).

The DS Commissioner also:

reviews and investigates incident reports that relate to assault, injury or poor care;

reviews and investigates the deaths of people who were receiving disability services at the time of their death;

initiates other investigations where there are allegations of abuse or neglect of an individual or that are recurring or systemic; and

provides education and information to the disability sector about responding to complaints and about preventing and responding to abuse and neglect.

Note that since 1 July 2019:

the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission has accepted complaints about NDIS-funded supports and services; and

the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) has accepted complaints about NDIA plans, reviews and early childhood early intervention services.

For the DS Commissioner’s contact details, see “Contacts”.

NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission

The NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission (“NDIS Commission”) is a Commonwealth statutory body (established by legislation in December 2017) that regulates the quality and safety of NDIS supports and services.

The NDIS Commission is responsible for implementing the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Framework. This framework provides a nationally consistent approach to help empower and support NDIS participants to exercise choice and control in relation to the disability supports and services provided to them. The framework also ensures that appropriate safeguards are in place and establishes expectations of providers and their staff to deliver high-quality supports. As at 1 July 2019:

NDIS providers in all Australian states and territories (except in Western Australia (WA)) are regulated by the NDIS Commission (WA providers are expected to be regulated by the NDIS Commission from 1 July 2020);

all NDIS providers and workers must abide by the NDIS Code of Conduct; NDIS providers registered by the NDIS Commission must also comply with the NDIS Practice Standards;

registered NDIS providers must meet the NDIS Commission’s requirements under the National Disability Insurance Scheme Act 2013 (Cth) about the management of complaints, incidents, reporting, worker screening, behaviour support and the use of restrictive practices;

any person can complain to the NDIS Commission about the quality and safety of NDIS-funded services in the states and territories where the NDIS Commission operates.

The NDIS Commission also:

focuses on the education, capacity building and development of people with disability, advocates, NDIS providers and NDIS workers;

facilitates information sharing with the NDIA, state and territory authorities and other Commonwealth regulatory bodies.

For more information, see the NDIS Commission’s fact sheet, “Then and now for providers in Victoria” at www.ndiscommission.gov.au/document/1226.

Victorian Mental Health Complaints Commissioner

The Victorian Mental Health Complaints Commissioner (“MHC Commissioner”) is an independent, specialist complaints organisation created by the Mental Health Act 2014 (Vic) to help resolve complaints about Victorian public mental health services and to recommend improvements.

The MHC Commissioner deals with complaints about public mental health services. This includes mental health community support services funded publicly and by the NDIS. The MHC Commissioner can help with complaints about a person’s experience with a service, including accessing a service or about treatment or care.

For the MHC Commissioner’s contact details, see “Contacts”.

Equal opportunity commissions

It is unlawful to discriminate against any person who has, or has previously had, a disability in the area of:

employment (including matters concerning an application for employment, dismissal, terms and benefits of employment, training and promotion);

provision of goods and services (including banking, retailing, insurance and entertainment);

education;

clubs and community organisations (if receiving government assistance or on government land);

accommodation;

sport;

local government;

administration of Commonwealth laws and programs; and

disposal of land.

There are exceptions to these. If you believe you have been discriminated against because of a disability, it is advisable to contact the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (www.humanrightscommission.vic.gov.au) or the Australian Human Rights Commission (www.humanrights.gov.au). (For further information, see Discrimination and human rights.)