VOLUNTEER advisers at citizens' advice bureaux are being forced to wait months for places on legal training schemes, it has been revealed.
The delays are caused by an underfunding of bureaux coupled with a soaring demand for training in specialist areas such as employment law.
They were revealed in the annual report of the National Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux (NACAB), launched at the group's conference in York last week.
A spokeswoman said: "Limited resources mean that badly-needed volunteer recruits now have to wait months for a training place while the growing demand for specialist training on subjects like debt and employment law cannot be met.
"Training in response to legislative change generating more work for CABx is having to be limited."
NACAB chair Helena Shovelton said the service was suffering the effect of a four-year freeze on government funding.
She added: "What we need, and what the local authorities which fund bureaux direct have a right to expect, is not only for our funding freeze to be lifted, but the £1 million our grant has lost in value to be restored."
Legal training is a key requirement for the 4,000 people recruited annually as volunteers for the bureaux. They give advice on problems including tax, immigration, discrimination and employment.
Twenty-four bureaux are also engaged in a trial scheme for non-lawyers to carry out legal aid work. NACAB says the scheme is making good progress, but future initiatives could be threatened by the cash shortage.
Ann Abraham, chief executive, said: "It will be impossible for the CAB service to commit itself to any future involvement without a matching commitment from the Government to provide the substantial additional resources."
The three-day conference, entitled 'Equality, Justice and the Law', included debates on 'The Changing Face of the Law', 'Legal Aid - Blueprint for the Future', and 'Perspectives from Northern Ireland'.