Page last updated at 05:55 GMT, Monday, 6 October 2008 06:55 UK

'Losers' fear over advice reforms

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Plans to reform the way people access independent advice services have led to claims local agencies will be at risk.

The Legal Services Commission proposes to create eight Community Legal Advice Networks (Clans) offering both general advice and legal representation.

Critics said that with no extra money in the system in Wales, it would lead to smaller advice centres losing out to a "centralised monopoly".

But the commission said the proposed changes would help more clients.

A 5.5m budget over three years has been earmarked for the first Clan for the Cardiff, the Vale of Glamorgan and Bridgend area.

As National Advice Week begins, supporters and critics of the proposals gave their views to BBC Radio Wales' Eye on Wales programme.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Wales seek help every year from a network of bureaux, agencies and solicitors offering free advice in a system that has evolved over half a century.

It will destroy the smaller agencies and networks that have built up because they simply won't have the time and resources to win an open tender
Phil Jew, AdviceUK,

Most people need "generalist" advice which is paid for by local authorities.

Complex cases involving solicitor's advice or representation in court are paid for through the legal aid system funded by the Legal Services Commission (LSC).

However, the commission wants to reform the system, claiming it can be confusing for clients who need both kinds of advice.

The director of the LSC in Wales, Paul Davies, said: "We make sure that the client gets access to the service where they need it - not where the solicitor or bureau happens to have set up and therefore the client has to go to them.

Five categories

"If they have got several needs to be resolved, which most of them do have, they will be able to get that advice sorted at one visit with this network, making sure all of the advice agencies join together to give a cohesive approach.

"Because we are able to make some savings by doing this more effectively, we can help more clients because we are not taking any money out of the system."

The first proposed Clan, for Cardiff, Vale of Glamorgan and Bridgend council areas, will see funding for five core categories - debt, employment, housing, community care and welfare benefit law - pooled with local authority money for general advice.

Would-be providers would then be asked to tender to supply an integrated advice service through a contract worth over 5.5 million over three years.

Phil Jew, of AdviceUK, an umbrella group for independent community advice agencies operating in the proposed Clan area, said the tendering process would see smaller agencies go to the wall.

'Shiny new monopolies'

He said: "The proposals just don't add up - unless the aim is to destroy many good aspects of local advice services in favour of shiny new monopoly suppliers.

"There is no new money to plug the gaps in provision which undoubtedly exist. Specialist advice services will be simply centralised and dedicated community services will go.

"Many local agencies do work pretty well together. The Clan won't build on that, it will destroy the smaller agencies and networks that have built up because they simply won't have the time and resources to win an open tender."

Consultation on the proposed clan closed last month and councillors in Cardiff, the Vale and Bridgend will decide whether to join in over the coming weeks.

Eye on Wales is on Monday on BBC Radio Wales at 1830 BST.




SEE ALSO
Debt drives CAB to ask for help
13 Jul 06 |  South East Wales
Rising numbers seek debt advice
18 Mar 08 |  Business
More insolvencies ahead for 2008
26 Nov 07 |  Business
Q&A: How to manage debt
03 Jan 07 |  Business

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