CAB legal advice 'below standard'

A LEAKED document highlighting the poor standard of help offered by the Citizens Advice Bureau underlines the “grave dangers” of Government plans to boost the sector's role, according to a leading legal pressure group.

The Legal Action Group (LAG) has published details of an internal report commissioned by the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux (Nacab) describing it as “damning” and “disturbing”.

The report analysed 319 employment cases handled by 16 bureaux and concluded that nearly 40 per cent of the advice fell below the association's standards and was potentially negligent.

Just 20 per cent of the advice from CABs was classified as good by researchers Tamara Lewis and Penny Waterhouse, of the Central London Law Centre, who reported to the association last year.

LAG director Roger Smith said funding shortages and a reliance on volunteers' services meant that bureaux were bound to struggle to provide a high quality service in such a difficult area of law.

“There are grave dangers in assuming it would be easy for generalist advice agencies to take over work currently undertaken by solicitors, in the way suggested in the Government's Legal Aid Green Paper,” he said.

John Lloyd, co-chair of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group, said: “This must be a warning to the Government not to try and extend the role of the advice sector on the cheap.”

But a Nacab spokeswoman defended the advice bureaux service and said the report's authors had concluded that advisers “were more likely to give accurate and appropriate advice than not”.

She said there had been a large increase in the number of clients seeking help for employment problems and it was an extremely complex area.

A working group had been set up by the association to tackle the problem and it had received a £100,000 grant from the Department of Trade and Industry to spend on training programmes.

“It would be interesting to see how the advice given by solicitors would bear out under a similarly searching and independent evaluation,” the spokeswoman added.