The Cabinet Office’s £16.8m Advice Services Fund for the not-for-profit advice sector is only a "stop-gap fix", according to sector umbrella bodies.
Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, announced yesterday that the fund would give grants of between £40,000 and £70,000 to free advice organisations that had seen a 10 per cent reduction in their funding from central and local government sources. He also announced that the Cabinet Office would carry out a review of free advice services.
Gillian Guy, the chief executive of Citizens Advice, believes the government was right to be worried about the advice sector because more people than ever needed to access its services, but said the funding was too short-term.
"This funding is of course a welcome stop-gap – but that's all it is," she said. "The advice review needs to find a sensible long-term solution. Local government and legal aid cuts are making it impossible to meet demand and are leaving too many people with nowhere to turn."
Gail Emerson, campaign manager for Justice for All, a campaign for free legal advice made up of over 3,500 organisations, including charities, said the fund was "just another stop-gap fix".
"It comes as the government is pushing the Lords to sanction a cut of £63m every year to legal aid advice in the very areas of advice this fund will support," she said. "This one-off fund of less than a third of that amount is not enough to fill the gap."
Emerson said the review of advice services was "crucial to the future of free legal advice".
"For far too long now, advice charities have spent too much time and energy making sure they can stay open next year, or even next month," she said. "That’s time and energy that would be better spent on what they do best – helping people who need advice. The advice review must remove this damaging uncertainty."