Changing lives, one tax return at a time

A new tax clinic is changing the lives of Wesley Mission clients experiencing financial difficulty.

In a partnership between Wesley Mission and the University of New South Wales (UNSW), students of UNSW School of Taxation and Business Law have been assisting clients with tax issues and overdue tax returns. 

Since 17 June this year, eligible clients have been referred to the tax clinic from Wesley Community Legal ServiceWesley Financial Counselling and Wesley Gambling Counselling. Many have at least eight years of incomplete tax returns.

“I am delighted that we are engaging with this issue, and through this partnership we are helping to change lives,” said the CEO of Wesley Mission, the Rev Keith V Garner AM.  

For many who walk through Wesley Mission’s doors seeking financial assistance, completing tax returns is often a stepping stone to financial independence.

“Wesley Mission’s financial counsellors assist the clients with credit and debt issues, bankruptcy and with gaining government benefits,” explained Jodie Rollason, Principal Solicitor, Wesley Community Legal Service.

“Many clients struggle with mental health issues and with limited funds, the money goes on food and living expenses with no additional money for taxation assistance.”

Recently the tax clinic assisted a single father struggling with mental health issues who had 12 years of overdue tax returns. Not only is he now up to date on his taxes, the tax clinic was able to obtain a $6,500 refund from the Australian Tax Office.

“That sort of outcome is what we live for,” said Dr Ann Kayis-Kumar, Senior Lecturer, School of Taxation and Business Law UNSW and tax clinic co-founder and course convenor. “Not only can we assist someone with tax compliance, but also help improve their quality of life.”

While the tax clinic been beneficial for Wesley Mission clients, it’s been a valuable learning opportunity for UNSW students. It’s also instilled the importance of having a pro bono culture.

“It’s a great opportunity for UNSW students to learn how to assist people with mental health issues, language barriers and significant social and economic disadvantage,” said Jodie.

Dr Ann adds: “Hopefully these students will learn the value of pro bono work and consider pro bono work in the future.”

The tax clinic is a 12-month pilot being funded by the Australian Government.

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