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Chapter 10 Section E: Non-legal advocacy

This chapter discusses advocacy and different types of advocacy including self-advocacy, individual advocacy and systemic advocacy.

There is information about several advocacy services that may be able to help you, as well as information about organisations that provide advocacy.

This chapter focusses on non-legal advocacy. For more information about legal services and legal advocacy, click here.

10E.1: What is advocacy?

An advocate is a person who speaks on behalf of another person to help them with a problem. Advocacy is important to achieving an outcome through the legal system, through a formal complaints process or with an organisation that you are unhappy with. In all of these situations, an advocate can use their skills to effectively explain your concerns to the relevant person or organisation and the outcome you want.

When you are dealing with legal problems, you should seek help from a lawyer. Usually a lawyer will be your advocate in court or at a tribunal dealing with your legal problem. Courts will generally not allow non-legal advocates to speak for a person in the court system. For information about how to access lawyers for both advice and legal advocacy, click here.

There are some tribunals where lawyers are generally not allowed to advocate on behalf of other people in the hearing or are only allowed to do so with special permission. For example, the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) generally encourages people to represent themselves in hearings. NCAT hearings are designed to be accessible, economical and effective to the community.

The rest of this section of the Manual only deals with advocates assisting people with non-legal issues. These situations could include dealing with a landlord, dealing with medical and support services, interacting with the police, negotiating a better deal with a government department, or dealing with issues at work or in study. An advocate could help a person by providing information about their issues, going to meetings with or for the person, writing letters, making phone calls or assisting them to lodge formal complaints.

An advocate in a non-legal setting can be professionally trained, and/or the family member or friend of the person they are assisting.

All advocates generally take direction from the person they are helping. An advocate should keep the person’s information private and confidential, and only share information about the person with their permission.

Advocacy is not providing counselling, making decisions for another person, case management or mediation.

There are different types of non-legal advocacy. For more about the different types of advocacy, click here.

For information about advocacy services that may be able to help people with a disability, click here.

For a full list of advocacy services in Australia, click here.

10E.1.1: What are the different types of non-legal advocacy?

You may hear people talk about different kinds of non-legal advocacy. Some organisations and individuals only provide one type of advocacy while others provide a range of advocacy services. Common types of advocacy include:

  • Self-advocacy is when someone advocates on her or his own behalf. Advocacy organisations can support and train people for self-advocacy.
  • Individual advocacy is advocacy on behalf of a person to try to get particular outcomes, or answers to questions. For example, if a person with disability living in a group home is not comfortable raising their concerns about their accommodation, an individual advocate can contact the group home and/or make a formal complaint for that person.
  • Systemic advocacy is when someone advocates behalf of the members of their organisation or on behalf of a sector of the community. The outcomes sought are changes in systems, policy or the law, not changes in specific outcomes for individuals in specific situations. For example, systemic advocacy may include making submissions to government agencies or writing letters to Members of Parliament to increase funding and services for people experiencing schizophrenia.

These different types of advocacy can be related and sometimes individual advocacy can lead to systemic change. For example, if a health service changes the way they communicate with patients because of one person’s complaint about their treatment, individual advocacy has led to a positive, systemic change that helps for future patients.

For more information about disability advocacy, click here.

10E.2: Specialist Advocacy Services that can support a person with a mental health condition

10E.2.1: The Multicultural Disability Advocacy Association of NSW (MDAA)

The Multicultural Disability Advocacy Association (MDAA) provides individual advocacy for people of non-English speaking background living with disability, including mental health conditions. MDAA is a state-wide service that provides advocates in some regional centres in NSW.

Examples of the kinds of issues MDAA advocates about include housing, immigration, school, work and disability services.

MDAA can be contacted at:

Phone: (02) 9891 6400
Freecall: 1800 629 072*
Fax: (02) 9635 535
Teletypewriter (TTY): (02) 9687 6325
Street address: 40 Albion Street

*Mobile phone calls to freecall numbers (numbers starting with 1800) are charged to the caller at the usual mobile rate.

10E.2.2: People with Disability Australia (PWDA)

People with Disability Australia (PWDA) is a national disability rights, advocacy and representative organisation that is made up of, led and managed by people with disability. PWDA has a fundamental commitment to self-help, mutual support and self-representation for all people with disability, by all people with disability. PWDA’s work addresses the discrimination, marginalisation, poverty and human rights abuses to which people with disability often experience in the community.

PWDA provides information, education and mutual support, by providing individual advocacy support to individuals and groups whose rights have been violated, and by identifying and promoting social change to realise human rights. PWDA’s work in systemic advocacy seeks to promote social justice for people with disability by achieving positive change in the structures, policies and practices that exclude people with disability and put people with disability at risk of abuse and neglect.

For example, PWDA could help you with individual advocacy for issues such as tenancy disputes, child protection hearings, Guardianship and Financial Management Order reviews, and NDIS reviews and appeals.

Click here to go to the PWDA website or click here for the PWDA page on individual advocacy.

For advocacy support, call 1800 843 929* or email

Disability Housing Advocacy Service

PWDA also provides a Disability Housing Advocacy Service. An advocate will help people in disability housing (including units, group homes and large residential centres) to resolve their housing concerns and enforce their rights.

The Disability Housing Advocacy Service can assist people living in Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) in NSW to settle disputes directly with their SDA providers or by mediation through Community Justice Centres. The advocacy service can help residents to make a complaint to the SDA providers and support and advocate for residents through mediation and other external dispute resolution services.

Freecall: 1800 843 929*

*Mobile phone calls to freecall numbers (numbers starting with 1800) are charged to the caller at the usual mobile rate.

10E.2.3: The Disability Trust

The Disability Trust provides a range of services and supports for people living with psychosocial disability. They have extensive experience tailoring support for people experiencing alcohol and drug difficulties where a mental health condition exists. They provide information for people with disabilities and their families in the Illawarra/Shoalhaven region of NSW and the ACT about everyday issues including:

  • locally available programs and services
  • referral to counselling or advocacy services
  • self-advocacy and support groups
  • forums and workshops
  • gaining access to services, aids and equipment; and
  • community links.

Contact the Disability Trust by

telephone: 1300 DISABILITY. 1300 347 224*

*Mobile phone calls to freecall numbers (numbers starting with 1300) are charged to the caller at the usual mobile rate.

10E.2.4: Disability Advocacy NSW (DA)

Disability Advocacy provides independent advocacy and seeks to assist people with a disability who have been unfairly treated. As a guideline, a person with a disability is treated unfairly if he or she is treated contrary to the law, human rights, policy, standards or well accepted conventions (such as procedural fairness/natural justice).

DA can provide different kinds of services including:

Individual Advocacy
Individual advocacy is the process of standing up for the rights of someone who is being treated unfairly. DA can provide short to medium term, non-legal, issue-based advocacy support to people with disability who have serious and urgent issues. For more information, click here .

iCare Lifetime Care Support and Advocacy
The iCare Lifetime Care and Support Scheme provides people who have been severely injured in motor accidents in NSW with treatment, rehabilitation and care.

Workers can complete an online referral form designed to be used by organisations and service providers wishing to refer a person with a disability to the service.

Individuals with a disability and carers can still seek the assistance of an advocate by contacting DA directly on 1300 365 085*.

DA have a range of publications and resources also available from their website.

To access the service in your area, click here

Freecall 1300 368 085*

*Mobile phone calls to freecall numbers (numbers starting with 1300) are charged to the caller at the usual mobile rate.

10E.2.5: Justice Advocacy Service

The Justice Advocacy Service (JAS) is a free service that supports adults and young people with a cognitive impairment who are in contact with the criminal justice system. No proof of disability is required. Cognitive impairment includes people with an intellectual disability, borderline intellectual functioning, acquired brain injury, dementia, autism spectrum disorder and drug or alcohol-related brain damage.

The JAS supports victims, witnesses, suspects and defendants in NSW through:

  • legal advice for people in police custody;
  • support persons at police stations;
  • support persons at court;
  • support persons at legal appointments; and
  • referrals to support services.

To contact JAS, call 1300 665 908* at any time of day or email

*Mobile phone calls to local call numbers (numbers starting with 1300) are charged to the caller at the usual mobile rate.

10E.2.6: Australian Federation of Disability Organisations

The Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO) is the national organisation representing people with disability in Australia. AFDO provides policy advice and representation to government and organisations on matters that impact on the lives of people with disability.

AFDO mainly works on systemic advocacy, rather than individual advocacy.

AFDO also works to inform and educate the general community about disability, and they work to develop a community where people with disability can participate in all aspects of social, economic, political and cultural life.

To find out more about their member organisations, their advocacy work in policy reform and available resources click here.

Updated January 1, 2021