Monday, 21 November 2011

Details of advice fund announced

LAG has been advised by the Cabinet Office that the £20m fund to assist not for profit (NFP) agencies hit by spending cuts will be officially launched today (Monday 21 November).

The fund will be aimed at frontline NFP advice providers in England, which give advice on one or more of the following areas of law - debt, welfare benefits, housing and employment. To qualify for a grant of between £40,000-70,000, organisations must have suffered a ten per cent cut in funding for advice services from either central or local government in the current year (2011/12). According to the Cabinet Office, priority will be given to those organisations with a high level of cuts which have not received cash from the Transition Fund. A review of NFP advice services has also been announced.

'This is a serious commitment to help free advice services carry on delivering much needed help to people struggling with debt, welfare benefits, employment and housing problems in these difficult economic times. The Cabinet Office will also be carrying out a review of free advice services to ensure that we do all we can to help the sector,' said Nick Hurd, Minister for Civil Society.

England will receive £16.8m of the £20m fund, with the balance being split between the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The fund will be administered by the Big Lottery Fund and details of how to apply to the fund will be posted on its website by the end of November.

LAG welcomes this announcement. NFP organisations have been hard hit by cuts in legal aid and other funding. We have also argued that the government needs to consider developing a strategy to better fund and co-ordinate the provision of NFP services. LAG hopes this review will be the starting point for this. However, we would warn that if no cash is made available on an ongoing basis, the fund announced today will be seen as providing nothing more than a transition from the frying pan into the fire for advice services facing big cuts in legal aid funding next year.

Both NFP and private practice legal aid providers were hit by a ten per cent reduction in fees last month (October). Next year the government plans to remove employment, debt and welfare benefits law completely from the legal aid scheme, as well as large parts of housing and immigration law. In total, £80.5m funding for this work will be lost if the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which is receiving its second reading in the House of Lords today, is approved without amendment. LAG estimates that around £50m of this money is currently paid to NFP organisations and the government plans to cut this from October next year.

Particularly in these difficult economic times, LAG believes the government is wrong to abandon members of the public who need advice with what are everyday legal problems. We are urging the House of Lords to amend the bill and the government to rethink its plans.

No comments: