The disability advocacy landscape in Victoria includes generalist, specialist, region-based, self-advocacy and community volunteers who assist people with a disability.

Contributor

Philip Grano

Principal Legal Officer, Office of the Public Advocate

Where to get help

Last updated

1 July 2021

Villamanta Disability Rights Legal Service

Villamanta is a state-wide community legal service that only works 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 (tel: 1800 014 111);
  • provides casework on disability related legal issues;
  • assists with appeals to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal about decisions made by the NDIS;
  • provides education to the community about the rights of people who have disability;
  • lobbies government and other bodies about laws and policies that affect people with disability;
  • provides free information about a range of disability rights topics (available on Villamanta’s website).

For more information about Villamanta, visit Villamanta’s website.

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 who 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 (see ‘Inside Access Program’, below);
  • 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, visit MHLC’s website.

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 to people while they are incarcerated to support 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.

For more information about the Inside Access Program, contact the MHLC.

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. IMHA 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 people to discuss and clarify their preferences and wishes;
  • providing information about the mental health system and assisting people to understand their rights and to act on them;
  • engaging and advocating directly with a person’s treating team, and/or providing support and coaching for people to self-advocate;
  • providing referrals to other services.

People should contact IMHA if they are currently receiving, or are at risk of receiving, compulsory treatment in Victoria and would like support.

Also contact IMHA if you would like to know more about getting support for another person.

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

For more information about IMHA, visit IMHA’s website.

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 and Family Court, and the Federal Court;
  • running community legal education sessions for pro­fessional and community groups to raise awareness about disability and to 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 disability in the community.

The 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 disability. 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.

For more information about the DDLS, visit DDLS’s website.

AED Legal Centre

The Association of Employees with a Disability Legal Centre (AED) is a state-wide service that provides free legal advocacy for people with disability who experience difficulties and/or discrimination in the areas of employment and education.

AED also:

  • provides legal representation at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for reviews of decisions made by the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA);
  • assists people to prepare submissions to the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.

Although the focus of AED’s work is to seek legal remedies in cases of disability discrimination, AED operates within a human rights framework to promote and protect the rights of people with disability and give them better access to justice in employment and education through the legal arena. 

For more information about AED, visit AED’s website.

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 Chapter 2.4: 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 methods, 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 also ‘Health Records Act 2001 (Vic)’ in ‘Other Victorian privacy legislation‘).

For more information about the HC Commissioner, visit the Commissioner’s website.

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 about registered Victorian disability services, including:

  • Department of Health (Vic) and disability services funded by the Department of Health (Vic);
  • 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 has oversight of registered Victorian disability services in relation to:

  • reviewing and investigating incident reports that relate to assault, injury or poor care;
  • reviewing and investigating the deaths of people who were receiving disability services at the time of their death;
  • initiating other investigations where there are allegations of abuse or neglect of an individual or that are recurring or systemic; and
  • providing education and information to the disability sector about responding to abuse and neglect.

Note that since 1 July 2019:

  • the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission has had responsibility for 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 more information about the DS Commissioner, visit https://www.odsc.vic.gov.au.

NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission

The NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission (‘NDIS Commission’) is a federal statutory body (established by 2017 legislation) 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 2021:

  • NDIS providers in all Australian states and territories are regulated by the NDIS Commission;
  • 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 about the NDIS Commission, visit the Commission’s website.

Victorian Mental Health Complaints Commissioner

The Victorian Mental Health Complaints Commissioner (MHCC) resolves complaints about health care and the handling of health information in Victoria.

The MHCC can also investigate matters and review complaints data to help health service providers improve the quality of their service.

The MHCC’s service is free and it acts independently and impartially.

For more information about the MHCC, visit the MHCC’s website.

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 or the Australian Human Rights Commission.

For further information, see Chapter 11.1: Discrimination and human rights.

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