Advice centres hit by charges

Legal Services Commission to charge charities up to £1,500 to use its quality mark

Charities providing advice will have to pay at least £1,000 to use a quality mark provided by the Legal Services Commission.

The LSC's General Quality Mark, which has been used as an accreditation for organisations that pass a free annual audit of the quality of their services, has been outsourced to the Assessment Network, a not-for-profit organisation that evaluates programmes such as Investors in People.

From April, organisations applying for the quality mark will be charged according to the number of employees they have. Fees vary between £1,000 and £1,500.

Neil Cleeveley, director of policy and communications at local umbrella body Navca, said the LSC should postpone the move until the end of the recession. Local charities with annual turnovers of less than £250,000 should be exempt from the charge, he said.

"At a time when local advice charities are struggling to meet the extra demand for their services created by the recession, these extra costs are the last thing they need," said Cleeveley.

Andy Gregg, chief executive of the London Advice Services Alliance, which represents the independent advice sector, said it could have a negative impact on the sector. "It will undermine the smaller advice organisations, which are already struggling with increasing demand and reduced funding," said Gregg.

If funders insisted on organisations having the quality mark as a condition of funding, many would have to close, he added.

John Edwards, head of advice at Age Concern England, which holds the quality mark, said he was concerned that the standard might not adequately reflect the quality of services provided.

An LSC spokesman said: "It is not compulsory, but it can help open up new funding streams, and holders can find that the benefits will outweigh the cost."

"Many organisations have expressed an interest in keeping the standard, and we will continue to work collaboratively with them to help ensure good services for clients."

KEY POINTS

The Legal Services Commission's annual audit to attain its quality mark will be outsourced to the Assessment Network.

Fees will be on a sliding scale, from £1,000 to £1,500, depending on the number of people employed. LSC audits were free.

The mark will be valid for two years rather than one to keep costs down.

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