The Legal Aid Board is "delighted" and "reassured" by the response to its appeal for applications for block contracts in the not-for-profit sector.
Almost 300 organisations have submitted statements of intent to apply for contracts in the second-phase pilot scheme. The contracts will be to provide advice and assistance in social welfare law in the not-for-profit sector in 1997. A further 42 organisations are under contract from the first phase.
Chief executive Steve Orchard said: "We are delighted by the positive reception of the board's pilot proposals which this response indicates.
"The fact that so many have given notice of their intention to apply for contracts has reassured the board that earlier reservations expressed by the advice sector networks have not deterred them from being involved in the next phase."
The applicants included over 160 citizens advice bureaux, about 80 members of the federation of independent advice centres and 20 law centres.
LAB said it was unlikely that all those who had submitted statements of intent would be awarded contracts but there would be further opportunities to apply for contracts in 1998.
The second phase pilot contracts will initially run for one year and will cover housing, debt, employment, immigration and nationality and welfare benefits. Contracts will not be let specifically for consumer and general contract work, family and matrimonial, personal injury or crime.
The positive response may signal a new spirit of cooperation between advice agencies and LAB, after earlier tension. In September the agencies, fearful they would be forced to collect contributions from their clients, threatened to pull out of block contracting.
Steve Johnson, legal adviser to the Federation of Independent Advice Centres, said the latest response was far better than anticipated. He added: "At the moment there are no specific proposals to introduce compulsory charges and on that basis centres will participate."
Sir Tim Chessells, LAB chair, said: "I remain confident that by working together we can make a significant contribution to the development of quality legal services provision for those most in need."
LAB said contracts under the new arrangements will not begin before April 1997.