December 01, 2011

Legal Services/Helplines Helpline Report Reveals New Data, Shares Stories of Elderly Who Have Been Helped

The Senior Legal Helplines Annual Report for 2010 was commissioned by the Administration on Aging as a part of its Model Approaches to Statewide Legal Assistance Project. The report was produced by the Center for Elder Rights Advocacy, the National Legal Resource Center member responsible for technical assistance for legal helplines. Beginning in 2009, AoA, in collaboration with CERA, the Center for Social Gerontology, and a workgroup of senior helpline managers and legal assistance developers, began a concerted effort to develop reporting guidelines for Model Approaches helplines/hotlines. Model Approaches participating helplines for project years 2009 and 2010 were asked to voluntarily report data for their operations in 2010 to the extent possible. At CERA’s request to all the senior legal helplines, some participating helplines from other project years, as well as one non-Model Approaches helpline, also submitted data. An elderly man contacted the helpline for assistance in obtaining a property tax abatement from his town. He and his wife had resided in their home for over 30 years and never had difficulty paying the property taxes until 2008, when both had to stop working due to their declining health. The town recorded a tax lien on the property, and our client and his wife were facing an automatic foreclosure because they were unable to pay the full amount of the outstanding taxes. The client had applied for a tax abatement, but the town never responded to his application. This man contacted the helpline because he did not know what else he could do to save his home. A helpline attorney researched the tax abatement statute and discovered that the town had failed to comply with the law. She spoke with a town official and argued that the town should review our client’s application again. The town official agreed, and upon a second review, the town granted a total abatement of the property taxes. As a result, the tax lien was discharged and our client and his wife were able to remain in their home. Center for Elder Rights Advocacy, Senior Legal Helplines Annual Report, Calender Year 2010 9 (2011). Report Highlights • Twenty reporting senior legal helplines served 47,351 unduplicated clients. • Twenty reporting senior legal helplines closed 53,166 cases. • Eighty-two percent of cases were closed with counsel, 13 percent were closed with limited action, and 5 percent were closed with extended services. • The senior helplines were successful in targeting services to women, low-income, and African American seniors, as well as older seniors. • The five most common problem codes were: o Collection issues at 16.1 percent of closed helpline cases; o Wills/Estates were 10.3 percent of closed cases; o Medicaid cases comprised 8.2 percent; o Powers of Attorney were 7.5 percent of cases; o Home Ownership cases were 7.5 percent of the total. (This problem code does not include foreclosures which accounted for an additional 1.8 percent of calls.) • Twelve helplines reported their resources and expenditures in operating the senior legal helpline. The average cost per case was $76. • Fifteen helplines were able to report staffing hours, enabling the calculation of the average number of cases a helpline advocate handled per hour. The average number of cases per hour was 0.8. To see all the data and read the full report, go to: www.legalhotlines.org.

Shoshanna Ehrlich,

Center for Elder Rights Advocacy