Careers advisers have branded the new National Careers Service an "illusion" and a "misrepresentation" after the Government changed its plans to create a unified system for adults and teenagers.
FE minister John Hayes announced last week that from 2012, the National Careers Service will offer a helpline and website as well as face-to-face advice for adults, but said schools will be responsible for buying in their own careers advice.
Mr Hayes had told the Institute of Career Guidance's conference in November: "I have long argued for the creation of an all-age careers service: a unified, consistent service that offers seamless support to young people as they make the transition to adulthood and have a true focus on lifelong learning."
Steve Higginbotham, the institute's president, said: "In reality, the National Careers Service is an illusion, and not a very imaginatively branded one either, and is a clear misrepresentation with regard to careers services for young people."
He said the new system made under-16s dependent on their school's willingness to pay for independent advice, without giving them the funds for it.
"The likely reality is that hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions, of young people will never get access to personalised impartial career guidance, having to rely on the national telephone helpline or website and school staff," he said.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) will spend pound;84 million on a national helpline as well as a network of private, public and voluntary sector organisations offering face-to-face advice for adults. Schools will have a responsibility to arrange their own independent advice.
Unison, which represents about 15,000 Connexions staff who advise young people, said the funding is well below the pound;200 million that had been mooted last year.
"Now we know why Government has stood on the sidelines as Connexions services have been systematically dismantled and advisers have joined their former clients in the dole queue - because, in future, there will no longer be a need for many careers advisers," Mr Higginbotham said.
He compared the market - where schools will bid for independent careers advice and a patchwork of providers within the National Careers Service will try to sell their advice to individuals or organisations - to the NHS reforms where a backlash prompted Government to "pause" legislation. "Young people's futures are too important to be left to the vagaries of market forces," Mr Higginbotham said.
A spokesman for BIS said: "There will be independent and impartial careers advice available to everyone."
The Department denied that it was reneging on the promise of a single service for people of all ages.
The spokesman said that, in his earlier announcement, Mr Hayes had promised the service would be based on the principles of "professional expertise" and "independence". "That is exactly what the Government is putting in place," he said. But he did not address Mr Hayes's claim that the service would be unified and consistent for all age groups.