THE Advice Services Alliance (ASA) has welcomed the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine's plan to guarantee advice agencies work worth at least £20m out of the £168m Green Form legal aid budget.
The money will be allocated after 1 January 2000 when the Government will introduce an exclusive contracting regime for all Green Form work.
After that date, Green Form work on all civil and family matters will only be available to firms or advice agencies that have been franchised by the Legal Aid Board.
Law firms have until 31 December this year and advice agencies - law centres and citizens' advice bureaux - until the end of May next year, to apply for a franchise.
ASA director Richard Jenner welcomed Lord Irvine's decision to ring-fence £20m for the advice sector claiming it would give agencies an incentive to apply for a franchise.
Advice agencies have only been able to apply for Green Form franchises if they employ a lawyer or are one of the 150 agencies taking part in a pilot scheme that began in July 1997 to test the ability of advice agencies to provide Green Form advice.
From March next year all advice agencies will become eligible to apply for a franchise.
Lord Irvine said he aimed to put the advice services "right into the heart of community life", adding they would be "an important factor in developing the Community Legal Service".