Earl of Kinnoull contributions to the Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2018


Tue 1st May 2018 Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL] (Lords Chamber)
Ping Pong (Hansard): House of Lords
7 interactions (280 words)
Tue 21st November 2017 Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL] (Lords Chamber)
3rd reading (Minutes of Proceedings): House of Lords
3 interactions (97 words)
Tue 31st October 2017 Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL] (Lords Chamber)
Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
23 interactions (1,700 words)
Tue 24th October 2017 Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL] (Lords Chamber)
Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords
3 interactions (420 words)
Wed 13th September 2017 Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL] (Lords Chamber)
Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
27 interactions (2,317 words)
Mon 11th September 2017 Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL] (Lords Chamber)
Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
3 interactions (384 words)
Wed 6th September 2017 Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL] (Lords Chamber)
Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard - continued): House of Lords
3 interactions (298 words)
Wed 5th July 2017 Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL] (Lords Chamber)
2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
3 interactions (1,322 words)

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL] Debate

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Department: Department for Work and Pensions

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL]

(Ping Pong (Hansard): House of Lords)
Earl of Kinnoull Excerpts
Tuesday 1st May 2018

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions

My amendments are aimed at removing the peril of offshore cold calling. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that these amendments are unnecessary or that she can accept them. I beg to move.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull (CB)
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My Lords, I will comment briefly on Amendments 2A and 10A. I very much congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, on putting them down and on making such a clear presentation of them, and I will not add very much to what he had to say.

I was looking at something that I pointed out to the House at an earlier stage in respect of the size of the asset of private pensions in Britain, when I referred the House to the Office for National Statistics report, one chapter of which is on private pension wealth. The median for someone between the age of 55 and 64 who has a private pension is to have a pot of £145,000. To put that in perspective, the average value of a house in Britain in June last year was £220,000, and Savills said that it thought that 48% of the house was financed by debt. That means that for an average person in Britain, the pot of pension is huge, and of the same order, as the value of their home. This makes it an incredibly juicy target for the bad guys.

That is why it is very important—I strongly suggest it is why people voted for the amendments when they did—that a belt-and-braces approach must be taken to frustrate the wicked designs of the bad guys. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to say that the Government will support these two amendments.

Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann
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My Lords, I support Amendment 10A and I hope that my noble friend will be able to accept it. Of course I welcome the Bill and the concept of a ban on cold calling but I fear, as we have expressed and the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, in particular has pointed out, that unless we ban the use of any leads that have been obtained from cold calling we will not protect consumers.

What is cold calling? It is unsolicited, direct marketing. Companies try to approach potential customers to entice them into buying products that in most cases end up being scams and on which those customers often end up losing significant sums of money.

The legislation tends to focus on this issue from the perspective of protecting people’s information and data, but this issue of banning cold calling needs urgently to be considered from a customer perspective as one of business selling practices. That is very different from the concept of protecting someone’s data. Even if there were consent in some way to cold calling, the practice that is currently prevalent—whether from overseas or within the UK—tends not to be calling people whose numbers have been found by invading their data privacy. Very often, it is random number calling from an automated device or merely trawling through telephone directories. Even those people who sign up to the Telephone Preference Service receive cold calls.

Cold calling is effectively already banned, but what the Bill seeks to do, what noble Lords were trying to do and what this amendment would help to achieve would be more than that, because we will never effectively stop someone trying to call people. However, if we ban the business reasons for which they do so we will properly protect consumers. That leads on to my plea to my noble friend to consider this from the point of view of the selling process and the customer buying process. If we ensure that the regulators in charge of the sales process do not permit the use of data that has been obtained from an unsolicited call, in any form, as we have already done for mortgages, that would be much more likely to ensure the kind of protection that I know my noble friend and the Government wish to achieve.

I thank David Hickson from the Fair Telecoms Campaign. He has tirelessly attempted to help people understand why these things are so important. The ICO is of course responsible for enforcing compliance with data protection legislation but the regulation of business practices is undertaken by the specialist regulators. In the case of pensions, it is the FCA or the Pensions Regulator. Indeed, the FCA already prohibits unsolicited direct marketing of mortgage products. The SRA prohibits unsolicited direct marketing of claims management services by solicitors, so it is possible to stop. I urge my noble friend to consider and respond to these concerns when she makes her closing remarks.

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Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann
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My Lords, before the Bill passes into law, I would just like to welcome the Bill, as well as the debt respite scheme and the help for those with unsecured debt. It includes some very important measures. I thank my noble friend the Minister and the Bill team for all the hard work they have done on these measures. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson, Lord McKenzie and Lord Sharkey, the noble Baronesses, Lady Drake and Lady Kramer, and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, who have all been so instrumental in getting this through. On this particular amendment, I am most grateful to my noble friend the Minister for listening to the concerns expressed in this House.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull
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My Lords, I can be even briefer, but I want to thank particularly the Minister for living up to her commitment because, having read through the comprehensive Amendment 21, it does precisely that and I thank her.

Baroness Buscombe Portrait Baroness Buscombe
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I once again thank very much all noble Lords who have taken part in the many debates in your Lordships’ House on the Bill. We have come a long way and there has been huge consensus. We have improved the Bill, along with our honourable friends in another place, and I hope that all noble Lords can wish it well. In particular, on the future of the new body, I hope that we will know its name soon so that we can start calling it something in our future debates on this subject.

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL] Debate

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Department: Department for Work and Pensions

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL]

(3rd reading (Minutes of Proceedings): House of Lords)
Earl of Kinnoull Excerpts
Tuesday 21st November 2017

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann
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My Lords, I too once again thank the Minister and all parties who have worked so hard on this Bill. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, who initially raised the issue of Scotland. It is excellent that the whole of Great Britain is included in the Bill. I thank the department for all the hard work that it has done to achieve this.

I too am delighted to see a cap on the PPI claims management fee. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, I would very much have liked the Government to agree that the parties responsible for the mis-selling would pay the fee rather than taking it out of the compensation that is paid to the customer. I understand that there may be an issue over the profitability of the claims management company itself but perhaps a compromise would be to split the 20% so that the customer gets 90% of what is due and the financial firm that has done the mis-selling perhaps pays 10% as well to the claims management firm. Having said that, I certainly welcome a 20% cap. I once again thank the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson, Lord Sharkey and Lord McKenzie, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Kramer and Lady Drake, the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and all other noble Lords who have made such great improvements to the Bill.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull (CB)
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My Lords, I cannot resist speaking briefly because of the good news in this group on the Scottish side. I pay tribute to and thank the Minister and her colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham—he of the very early morning email, which I received so often during the process of the Bill and which made me feel jolly lazy. I also pay tribute to and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, who added her name to my Scottish amendments; they were of course badly drafted, and I thank the parliamentary draftsman for correcting all that.

However, this set of amendments is special for another reason: it is a rare example of good co-operation between the UK and Scottish Governments. In fact, in this Chamber last night we debated the mechanics of devolution and how the UK Government and the devolved Administrations work. This is a wonderful example of how it should work, and it has worked to the advantage of our fellow citizens. I am therefore delighted, I very much hope that this will be oft repeated, and I thank the Minister again.

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL] Debate

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Department: Department for Work and Pensions

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL]

(Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Earl of Kinnoull Excerpts
Tuesday 31st October 2017

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann
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My Lords, I have added my name to this very important amendment. Of course, I welcome this very important Bill. Providing guidance for consumers is absolutely vital, and I congratulate the Government on bringing forward the Bill. However, the intention of this amendment is to make it work better for the public.

I support this amendment wholeheartedly as it would be a major step forward in ensuring that the pension freedoms work better for the public. As the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, rightly said, too few people are making use of the excellent Pension Wise service, which was set up to help them make well-informed decisions about their pensions. Indeed, when the Government announced the new pension rules, they rightly recognised that the public were not well equipped to understand the important features of their pension savings and the new landscape that would allow them to make the best use of this excellent new policy, so they also announced what they referred to as the guidance guarantee to ensure that everyone could have free impartial support before making decisions about their defined contribution pensions.

Pension Wise has consistently high satisfaction ratings of 90% or more, as the noble Lord has already mentioned, but the majority of people are at risk of poor outcomes and a worse quality of life in retirement than they could otherwise enjoy because they do not get the guidance. So far, pension providers have been left to encourage people to use the guidance by sending a Pension Wise leaflet with all their so-called wake-up packs. These are sent to a customer about six months before their previously chosen pension age. Providers have to mention that Pension Wise is available, but clearly the message is not getting through. Pension Wise is merely presented as an option for customers rather than what it needs to be: a normal part of the pension access process. Too often, the public do not read the materials they are sent or are encouraged also to call the providers’ own hotlines. Once they have done that, people often feel they have already had free help and, even if they do not realise that it is not unbiased or impartial and may not have explained all the issues they need to consider, they do not go on to Pension Wise.

As we are automatically enrolling people into pensions, I believe it is also right to consider automatically encouraging the use of free guidance to help people before they make these irreversible decisions. The two should go hand in hand. Creating the new single financial guidance body, which is warmly welcomed on all sides of the House, could be an excellent opportunity to deliver a new approach to guidance designed to make using the Pension Wise successor body the expected norm. That is what this amendment attempts to achieve, with people automatically being told that they have an appointment waiting for them, perhaps a voucher of some kind that gives them the time of a telephone appointment that has already been made for them but also makes it clear that they can change this if they prefer a different time or have a face-to-face appointment, if they would like.

An ILC-UK survey of consumers found that only half of defined contribution pension customers thought they understood quite well or very well what an annuity is, and that a shockingly low 3% said this about draw -down. Another study by the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association found that just over half of pension-age customers wrongly thought that draw-down products offer them a guaranteed retirement income, and about a quarter thought that draw-down carried no investment risk at all. Given such findings, it is surely clear that we urgently need better regulatory requirements to help non-advised customers to receive the guidance and fulfil much better the absolutely appropriate promise of this guidance guarantee. The lack of safeguards for pensions seems out of proportion to the known risks of consumer detriment. Research from Just Group, which has also been pushing for this amendment, suggests that defined contribution pension customers aged over 55 who had Pension Wise guidance believe that the investment of time in seeking such guidance was worth while, with 90% saying that all customers should use it.

This amendment would allow the use of similar principles to auto-enrolment and would help to overcome the inertia and lack of engagement with the complexity of pensions. By arranging or directing customers to free guidance rather than just mentioning it to them, take-up is likely to be much higher. Such auto-enrolment into guidance can be organised in a number of ways. However, the current guidance service management with whom I have liaised has already suggested to me that it believes that providers could book appointments for customers who call up with a request to transfer money from their pension or take some money out of it. I point out to noble Lords that guidance for some transfers is important, not just for when people take money out, because the customer could be helped to avoid falling for a scam scheme. Pension Wise has already managed to stop some customers from losing their pension when they responded to a cold call that was urging them to transfer rapidly out of a good scheme to a scam one.

To ensure that people have a guidance session before they engage with their provider about the possible options for their pension is more likely to result in them not taking out money yet, which the provider may not tell them about, or realising that there are many reasons to keep the money in pensions, such as not being taxed or losing the tax benefits of pensions. Of course, financial advisers can help here, but for those who do not have such independent advice the free guidance service is important. I hope that the Government will accept these sensible ideas, which have wide support from across the House, and which would be a major step forward for consumer protection in pensions.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull (CB)
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My Lords, my name has also been added to this amendment, and I agree with every word the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, said. I declare my interests as set out in the register of the House, in particular those which relate to the insurance industry.

It has long been the case that for homes and mortgages considerable protections exist for consumers to prevent them from doing something in a hot-headed fashion. Indeed, this House has helped to shape those protections over many years—I remember studying the Law of Property Act 1922 at Bar school. Those protections have continued to build and generally are considered to work.

The pension asset has in recent times become just as significant. I say that off the back of an Office for National Statistics report, which it produced in December 2015, one chapter of which is called “Private Pension Wealth, Wealth in Great Britain, 2012 to 2014”. It reports that 59% of our fellow citizens now have a private pension and that the median value of the pension pots at June 2014 was £57,000. Obviously, those pots are growing through time. The median value for people between the age of 55 and 64—to the unscrupulous, the target people—was £145,000. To put that in perspective, the last house price index in this country—in June—listed the average value of a house at £220,000 or so, and Savills has helpfully estimated that the average loan-to-value ratio is about 48%. I do not want to prove anything in particular with that spray of statistics, but I want to demonstrate that the pension asset is now as valuable to our fellow citizens as the house asset across the board. Accordingly, in my mind and in logic, it too should enjoy similar protections to try to stop bad things happening.

The problem has been coming up on us and has been exacerbated by two things in recent times: first, the Osborne pension reforms; and, secondly, the very rapid rate of growth of pensions in general. To give my last statistic, the same ONS report said that in the two years to June 2014 private pension pots had grown by a median of 22%. My concern is not the big pot holder—I think that there will be sophisticated people who can look after themselves—but the large number of small pot holders who, to the unscrupulous, must look like very tempting targets.

The amendment serves to protect particularly the vulnerable and it goes some way towards making the pension asset safer, just as the legislation I referred to earlier has done for homes and mortgages. Pension asset security would be improved, without great effort on the part of government or, indeed, cost for someone who is trying legitimately to access or restructure their pension arrangements. Accordingly, I feel that this is a very sensible amendment and I very much hope to hear shortly from the Minister that the Government can do something in this area.

Lord Deben Portrait Lord Deben (Con)
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My Lords, I refer the House to my declaration of interests, particularly as chairman of the Personal Investment Management & Financial Advice Association.

It is very important to take this amendment seriously because of the reforms brought in by George Osborne. There are two halves to giving people freedom: one is giving the freedom and the other is making sure that they have access to the best information in order to make the best choices. I fear that sometimes people find the first easier than the second.

I sat for some time as the representative of financial advisers on a committee of the then regulator looking into the financial understanding of people throughout the country. It was a very salutary experience, not least because many of the leaders of the providers were totally unable to explain what they were providing in language that I—being somewhat of a professional—could understand, let alone anyone else. My concern is that this is an industry that, even with the very best of intentions, is not very good at explaining the details. There are two reasons for that: one is that a special language is spoken by the experts and the second is that these things are very complicated. That is why, in many companies, people who are perfectly capable of being chairman or chief executive soon find somebody else to look after the pensions. It is a very complicated matter.

My concern is that the Bill needs constantly to look at the moments when people are most able and willing to receive advice. If that is also the point at which they most need the advice, it becomes particularly valuable. My noble friend might take note of one of the biggest changes to have happened in a quite different area. We were busy trying to get people to understand how important energy efficiency was. Many of the steps that we took seemed to have very little effect until we started to tell people, when they bought a new appliance under the European Union scheme, how energy efficient the appliance was. From one year to the next, we got rid of most of the GH levels and arrived at a situation where we were talking about A, A+ and A++. This was because we chose the moment when it was best to advise people. That is precisely what the amendment means. Not having it is not having the other half of the reforms.

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It is far better in my experience to lock the figurative stable door while the horses are still in situ. I beg to move.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull
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My Lords, I support these three amendments, to which my name was added after the Marshalled List was printed. I pay tribute to the clear introduction of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt.

In the debate on Amendment 24, the Minister talked about the framework element of the Bill. These amendments are three pieces of Meccano that should be added to the framework for the reasons I am about to deliver.

On the enabling provision in Amendment 39A, I looked at the Competition and Markets Authority private motor insurance report, which came out in September 2014. The data in the report was a year older so it is already four years old. The report suggests that in the sampling year 370,000 credit hires were done. It is a very big business. It estimated in paragraph 36 of the report that the detriment—that is, the overcharging by the credit hire companies—was then £84 million. That, essentially, is profit that goes to these sucking entities, which has to be paid by everyone through their motor insurance policies.

The report goes on at length about whether anything should be done about it. It said that, on balance, it is not quite enough money yet to do anything and, anyway, there is not a convenient Bill travelling through Parliament on which one could hang any framework. However, I can say from my experience in the insurance industry that things have moved on rapidly over the past four years. I do not know what the detriment is today because no one has been calculating it, but it is certainly a heck of a lot more than the £84 million that the CMA measured in 2013. Although the evidence base might not be quite there for the Government to act, certainly the Meccano pieces of the framework should be put in place. That would be greatly to the benefit of us all and I can see no downside to it being done.

My logic is exactly the same when it comes to Amendment 39B. Unfortunately I have not had time to hunt around for some relevant statistics, but this area is also an incredibly profitable business for someone sucking money out of the insurance payments that are made. Ultimately, of course, it means that ordinary citizens have to pay higher insurance premiums. This is also a growing business and it is likely that there would be a strong evidence base for a regulator to do something pretty soon.

Amendment 39C, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said, is slightly different. Some powers are already in place, but the insurance industry is concerned that the small claims track increase will mean that within small claims there is plenty of scope for customer detriment, which again is very bad. This is a free piece of Meccano that can be put in so that at some point in the future, if the evidence base is there, the Government will be able to move very swiftly to sort it out rather than having to wait. I note that it has taken three years since the Competition and Markets Authority report for a suitable Bill to come forward on which to hang these important amendments. I hope to hear good news from the Minister.

Lord Flight Portrait Lord Flight (Con)
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My Lords, I rise briefly to support the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Hunt. We all know what they address and we may have experienced these abuses. The existing law and regulations fail to address them, and it is time that they did so. As has just been pointed out by the noble Earl, this is an appropriate piece of legislation in which to include them. I hope very much that the Government will accept the amendments.

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Lord Hunt of Wirral Portrait Lord Hunt of Wirral
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My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. I completely understand his reference to Meccano; I suppose it is easy to pretend that we have moved on, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said—advised, no doubt, by his grandchildren. I understand the point that there needs to be a structure; it is that about which I was hoping to persuade the Minister.

I am also very grateful to my noble friends Lord Flight and Lord Deben for their support. I sensed a feeling around the House that something needs to be done. Does the Minister understand that I have been gnawing away at this particular problem for over 10 years? I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, who took through a Bill some considerable time ago that recognised the need to regulate claims management companies. Many examples were given then, many years ago, of how that represented a growing market. Looking around us today, particularly at holiday sickness claims, you suddenly realise that a new breed of companies are exploiting the admitted rights of individuals to compensation, but in return are demanding a share of that compensation. That has become the lifeblood of these claims management companies; and they keep changing. One moment, you impose a different form of regulation, then the next, you see that the companies have completely escaped any form of regulation.

It may well be that the Minister is right to look to the future with confidence, knowing that the Financial Conduct Authority will now be dealing with the problem. He is right to point out that the FCA has power under existing legislation. Perhaps we will see at last a reining in of these individuals, who have been feeding on the lifeblood of victims who cannot afford to allow part of their compensation to be siphoned off into a developing, stronger claims management company. In a way, I suppose my noble friend was saying that I have made a serious error of judgment in labelling them all as claims management companies. It may well be that they do not fit that description, but I think we all know what we are talking about when we refer to claims management companies. I call them claims farmers. I recently attended a conference where I was asked why I have this vendetta against claims farmers; I admitted that it is because they have no justification for what they do and for the way in which their business model has developed. The Minister has made a number of commitments—I can see him quickly checking his notes on what commitments I am referring to—and I sensed a considerable amount of sympathy for the point I was making. I want to reflect carefully on all the points.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull
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I have here the report I referred to, from the Competition and Markets Authority. Paragraph 2.37 states:

“The range of services provided by CMCs can include … (d)”—

among other things—

“providing credit repair and credit hire for non-fault claimants”.

In other words, as far as the CMA is concerned, claims management companies certainly include credit hire companies. In my bit of the industry—underwriting—we would absolutely think that they are part of the same thing. No one has objected to that. It is very clear throughout that section of the CMA report that they are one and the same.

Lord Hunt of Wirral Portrait Lord Hunt of Wirral
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I am grateful to the noble Earl for making that important point. I do not necessarily want to speak on behalf of the Minister, but I sense that his response may be that other people do that work as well. We need to try to ensure that we fulfil my objective that where there is a claim, there should be regulation. There should be a structure whereby there is some control of the companies seeking to exploit the situations certain people who need to bring a claim find themselves in.

I will reflect carefully on all the points my noble friend the Minister raised, but this problem is not going to go away. I can see it increasing.

As I am already becoming aware, there is other legislation in respect of which claims managers are looking at new areas to fasten on to and exploit. We have to be prepared to deal with that in advance, rather than seek to catch up, as we have tried to do for the last 10 years. Let us move ahead. In the meantime, I thank my noble friend for all he has said and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann
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My Lords, briefly, I support this amendment as well. Cold calling and other unsolicited approaches are a growing nuisance. I have not come across a group pushing to stop the Government from banning these cold calls. Direct marketing to people’s home phones or personal mobiles surely has no place in modern business practice. Leaving responsibility for a ban to Ofcom and the ICO is simply not an effective strategy. It clearly is not working.

The measures in Amendment 42, which has been deliberately and carefully crafted by the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, supported by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, are designed to prevent the cold calls rather than trying to catch cold callers afterwards, once they have already plagued the public. If firms engage in unsolicited approaches to encourage consumers to make claims which may or may not be valid, using the data thereby obtained would also be an offence. We could finally tell the public that any people who call them out of the blue, or contact them in some unsolicited way, are breaking the law; they should therefore not engage with them.

This provision would not stop claims management companies advertising broadly to offer claims management services, but it would help to stop the speculative nuisance calls, texts or emails which are plaguing millions of British people so frequently. The crucial additional power would be the role of the FCA. Using the regulator and forcing firms to demonstrate, if challenged, that they have not obtained business as a result of leads from cold calls would then mean that they would be at risk of losing their licence. It would be a much more effective strategy to stop the cold calls in the first place. I welcomed my noble friend Lady Buscombe’s words during our previous day on Report, which promised that there would indeed be some action from the Government in another place. I hope that we will get broad reassurance on those points in tonight’s debate.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull
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My Lords, I will be very brief indeed, as we have heard two very clear and good speeches from the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann. The first point I made at Second Reading was on the importance of maintaining access to justice for our citizens. The point I make now is that I see nothing in Amendment 42 which in any way fetters access to justice. I see only good features of it, and I very much hope that we will hear good news from the Government in due course.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara
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My Lords, I too support this amendment, which we discussed earlier and which I think has been re-presented in the expectation that it will commend itself to Ministers, and in the hope that they will look kindly at it. It is absolutely right to consider these cold-calling activities as one of the greatest nuisances of the modern age. Indeed, the Minister herself admitted that they had led her to give up her landline so that she could not be persecuted. But that does not seem to stop them; they just find your mobile phone and get on to that as well, using texts and other means. I cannot wait until they start using drones and other things to deliver their messages in the hand. Maybe at that stage we would have the Government on our side, as they might recognise aerial bombardment as taking it a step too far.

But at the heart of this is the question of trust. The noble Baroness was extremely persuasive on an earlier amendment in suggesting that she could be trusted and was a person of trust. Her work with all of us around the House—we have all had a chance to talk to her about issues of interest to us—can be seen in the amendments that she laid herself and the support she has given to other amendments coming forward. Here is a classic: she gave a commitment at an earlier stage, admittedly in slightly different circumstances, to bring something forward. She let slip that the civil servants are already working on it, which suggests that a great deal of activity has probably gone on around Parliament and departments, because she would not have mentioned it if she did not have some confidence that what was being proposed could have been seen and agreed by other Ministers who have an interest in this area. So I suspect that things are well primed. I do not like defence or guns in metaphors, but if the gun has been so charged and so primed, it seems rather odd that it has been left in a loaded position somewhere close to her office not being used. Trust is something we want to see exercised in practice, and I look forward to hearing the noble Baroness’s comments.

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43: Clause 18, page 15, line 27, at end insert “and Scotland.”

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull
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My Lords, we are on the home leg. In moving Amendment 43, I shall speak also to Amendment 46. I am reporting back the same two amendments that we discussed in Committee, and your Lordships will be delighted to hear that my remarks will be very short. Before I make them, I should say that the Minister is now a great hero of mine. I remarked that he was sending me emails at 7.21 am during Committee stage, but he takes a bit of a lie-in these days: his first email to me this morning was at 8.20 am. He has worked with terrific courtesy, particularly on this issue, which is a very difficult one given the poor state of relations between our Parliament and Holyrood. It will be very helpful, because working on this is greatly to the benefit of people both sides of the border.

Your Lordships will recall that I had two beefs with the law as it is. The first is my beef about arbitrage: companies can set up in unregulated Scotland and aim their activities at England. I felt that any form of arbitrage within the United Kingdom was against the general principle of having a single market in the United Kingdom and was wrong. The second beef I had was that as one looked at the statistics—we have drowned in really depressing statistics in this area—one saw that Scotland had it worse than England in terms of the activities of these very unpleasant companies. So I thought it was time for Scotland to do something about it. The Justice Committee at Holyrood has been studying the problem and feels the same—we had various quotes from various Scottish Ministers feeling that.

I should also say that this is another piece of Meccano, because the trigger in my mechanism would actually be held by Scottish Ministers. Tantalisingly, the good news is that last night a letter surfaced that was being sent by Annabelle Ewing, the relevant Scottish Minister, to the Justice Committee at Holyrood, saying that the Scottish Government were now keen to regulate CMCs in Scotland and that officials were in active discussions with equivalent officials down south to do that. Accordingly, I am hoping that in a minute we will hear some very good news from the Minister. I do not know what happened next, but he does. I beg to move Amendment 43.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham
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My Lords, the end is in sight. I am very grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, for his amendment and for the kind words he said about me. It has been a very constructive dialogue to seek to get this bit of the Bill right.

The amendments in his name seek to extend Part 2 of the Bill to Scotland. As noble Lords will be aware, the Government worked closely with the Scottish Government during the development of this policy to ensure that the FCA’s regulatory regime not only achieves the aim of strengthening claims management regulation but is proportionate to the needs of the sector and its consumers. Having sufficient evidence of malpractice by CMCs in Scotland is essential to justify extending regulation across the border. Our initial discussions with the Scottish Government revealed that they did not want regulation of CMCs to be extended to Scotland. Their view was that there was limited evidence of malpractice. We had powerful contributions in our debate in Committee which put forward a contrary view.

Because CMCs in Scotland have tended to be solicitor led, they are often regulated by the Law Society of Scotland. The decision was therefore made to replicate the current scope of claims management regulation to England and Wales only. However, following the very useful debate which we had on this issue in Committee, we have continued discussions with the Scottish Government, and their views are evolving.

The Scottish Government have not yet requested that claims management regulation is extended to Scotland, but I say to the noble Earl that, should we receive ministerial confirmation that the Scottish Government wish to extend claims management regulation to Scotland, we would be ready and willing to table a government amendment to that effect. So we will continue to engage with the Scottish Government and we will keep our position on claims management regulation in Scotland under review.

Break in Debate

It seems churlish to end by noting that the amendments tabled by the noble Earl would not have the effect of extending FCA regulation of claims management to Scotland; they would amend only the extent of the claims management provisions and would not amend the regulation to encompass claims management services provided to consumers in Scotland. Given that somewhat technical objection but, more importantly, against a background of the ongoing conversations with the Scottish Government, I hope that the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull
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I thank the Minister for his typically courteous and thorough response. It is incredibly important that the discussions that are currently taking place between UK and Scottish officials progress. I think I am right in saying that what I have heard gives us more than sufficient proof that that is the case and that both Ministers here today have their shoulders behind this one—because it is a very important feature. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 43 withdrawn.

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL] Debate

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Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL]

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Earl of Kinnoull Excerpts
Tuesday 24th October 2017

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Amendments 1, 2 and 7 are a package, all linked directly to the thread of consumer protection. I hope that the Government will see them that way and see their merits. I beg to move.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull (CB)
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My Lords, my name was added to the three amendments. I declare my interests as set out in the register of the House, particularly in respect of the non-life insurance industry. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, for his drafting skills—I shall make one or two points in a moment about the drafting, which I think is particularly elegant.

The dataset of 9 million telephone calls to UK cities to which the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, referred had one other gem within it: 42% of those 9 million calls were nuisance calls. That dataset was gathered over three years, so it is fairly robust and it gives the House yet another sense of how inherent this problem is in our society. We stand here today with the opportunity to do something about that.

Keith Brown MSP, the relevant Minister at Holyrood, said when the report originally came out—it is a very good quote—that:

“These calls are a serious problem that can cause both emotional and financial harm, particularly to some of our most vulnerable citizens”.

Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, pointed out, Citizens Advice Scotland, in data mining the same 9 million calls, said that four in 10 Scots had felt intimidated. That is a form of mental harm. In our society, if I do or threaten to do physical harm to people, we have protected our citizens under Section 47 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861—he says, looking at a noble and learned Lord—but we have been less good at protecting them from mental harm. This is one of the ways in which we can begin to redress that balance.

These are subtle amendments because they seek to empower Ministers to go along that path by way of a double trigger. The first trigger is for the SFGB to state that there is a problem worth addressing and to make a report. The second trigger is that the Secretary of State concerned can then decide, yes or no, whether to make an order. The double trigger is particularly subtle because it means the problem will be considered in a complete way. Given that, ultimately, the order will have to come here, we can be assured that there will be plenty of debate.

This mechanism, which will enable the apparatus of government to protect people, will strengthen the legislation. I can see no down side but a strong upside, given that Citizens Advice Scotland particularly noted that these nuisance calls weigh on the most vulnerable in our society.

Viscount Brookeborough Portrait Viscount Brookeborough (CB)
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I was on the Financial Exclusion Committee. When we talk about targeting the vulnerable, it is not a matter of someone taking all the numbers or addresses out of a book; it is done scientifically. These people look at the vulnerable and consider when they will be vulnerable and how they will get at them.

The amendment includes digital. We were given evidence that single, older and vulnerable people were especially targeted digitally in the middle of the night. So if they are not sleeping well and switch on their computer, what comes up? We should not think that this is just blanket coverage and some of these people picked it up. The high numbers we have been given are targeted numbers and therefore the response rate, sadly, is very high. These are the people we are trying to protect.

We would like to reduce the number of cold calls that people receive purely by chance and do not listen to, but far too high a proportion of these cold calls are listened to because they are targeted on vulnerable individuals in our society.

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL] Debate

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Wednesday 13th September 2017

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Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD)
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My Lords, this is not an area that I knew about before the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, got to his feet, but he has thoroughly persuaded me and I hope that he has thoroughly persuaded the Government.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull (CB)
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My Lords, as usual, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is right on the money and I do not disagree with a word that he said. I would add one tiny little thing: the net effect of the MROs and the CHCs is that they add to the cost of motor insurance in this country so that poorer people who struggle to pay their motor insurance will find it further away from them. For that solid reason, I strongly support the noble Lord’s two amendments.

Viscount Trenchard Portrait Viscount Trenchard (Con)
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My Lords, I, too, offer my support to my noble friend Lord Hunt. I agree with his two amendments, which seek to attack one of the major menaces of the spurious claims activity in our society at present. Does my noble friend the Minister think that the FCA is qualified and able to take on all these extra tasks? Will there be a new category of authorised person within the FCA? The skills required to regulate CMCs of various kinds may not be exactly the same as, for example, those required to give financial advice. It is also worth checking that there are not any other areas of spurious activity or the encouragement of spurious claims which are already being practised by unscrupulous people.

Break in Debate

I have just had the opportunity of meeting with ABTA and was told that it recently set up its own free service for resolving holiday sickness claims. I am sad to report that take-up is slow. The revenue available to CMCs by pushing claims in another direction remains all too alluring. My amendment seeks to give the requirement teeth. In my opinion, the only threat effective in compelling compliance by CMCs is to denude them of their right to charge for their services. A robust approach of this kind would naturally require substantial safeguards to be put in place. My amendment aims simply to probe the Government’s intentions on this important point. Does my noble friend the Minister intend to implement this vital recommendation from the Brady report? I would be happy to outline what I believe is the right approach if he were, once again, kindly to agree to meet me and allow me to persuade his officials and him of this. I beg to move.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull
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My Lords, again, I support the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, and agree with every word he said. I thought it would be helpful to give a few figures for just how raging this fire is.

The first figure comes from CEHAT, the Spanish hotel and apartment trade body, which estimates that over the past three years the Brits have cost its members €100 million in claims. That is just Spain and just members of that trade body. The second is a wonderful statistic, which comes from an unnamed big tour operator in the Guardian on 31 July. It said that from July to August 2016 it took to Europe 750,000 British customers, 800,000 German customers and 375,000 Scandinavian customers. The Scandinavians lodged 39 claims, the Germans lodged 114, and the British lodged around 4,000. One can see just from those facts how much of a fire is burning here and what an important issue the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has zeroed in on. I can say only that I support his thinking wholeheartedly and hope he is feeling very persuasive, providing he gets to see the Minister and the officials.

Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann
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My Lords, I, too, support my noble friend’s Amendment 70A. He has highlighted a very important issue. It is right that in Clause 17 the Government are looking to cap the charges made by claims management companies, but this should apply to personal injury claims as well as those for financial products and services. The cap on charges is also important because there will be problems in future associated with the increased use of the small claims track when it is extended to cover cases up to £5,000 for personal injury claims.

I was going to quote the same figures as the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, but I have also heard from a number of holiday operators and other representatives of the travel industry that resorts are now threatening to sharply increase prices for British holidaymakers or even withdraw all-inclusive packages from the UK market altogether. This situation is damaging the reputation of British holidaymakers and I support my noble friend’s amendment.

Break in Debate

71: Clause 17, page 15, line 6, at end insert—

“(6A) The FCA must provide reasonable assistance in the interpretation of the rules under this section for those providing claims management services.”

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull
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My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register of the House, particularly those relating to the non-life insurance industry.

At Second Reading I commented on the vital nature of access to justice. It is of central importance that those who are not in a position to get legal or other assistance towards making valid claims can do so via no-win no-fee arrangements with professional firms and at reasonable cost. The very excellent claims management regulation review already referred to by noble Lords, led by Carol Brady, is very firm on this point. I remind the House that her executive summary says:

“The overwhelming majority of stakeholders, including the banking and insurance industries which have been hardest hit by CMC misconduct, argued that there is a legitimate need for CMCs and that the Government should not seek to regulate them out of existence”.

The central role of the FCA is clear. Its regulation must be proportionate and helpful.

Regulators in financial services generally charge the cost of their regulation back to those whom they regulate. So one way of assessing how heavily you are regulated in any jurisdiction, and the burden, is simply to compare the relative costs of the regulation. The British Insurance Brokers’ Association, using London School of Economics numbers, supplied me with some data earlier in the week. It reports that the UK—for insurance broking, which is just one of the very large number of areas that the FCA regulates—is more than twice as expensive as Ireland, Hong Kong and Bermuda, and that that multiple is bigger again for France and Germany.

It is not just the cost or weight but the fact that, in the insurance space at least, you cannot ring up the FCA and get help in interpreting what for our industry is 1,000 pages of regulations on a situation-specific basis. It simply will not answer the question but will refer you to the regulation and say, “Go and get some advice from somebody else if you need it”. That is completely different from how regulators in other jurisdictions around the world operate, as being helpful to those whom they seek to regulate helps a jurisdiction become competitive internationally. This amendment seeks to ensure that there is a cultural change for the FCA where the CMCs are concerned. I fear that an unhelpful regulator would act as a deterrent to the formation of new small CMCs. It is vital that new CMCs can be born to maintain that access to justice that I started with, just as it is vital that a proportionate regulator deals with unsatisfactory CMC behaviour.

I would point out one more thing—that if you get regulation wrong, the FCA can reach through the corporate veil and get at the regulated persons connected with the firm concerned. They can be fined and sanctioned generally in all sorts of ways. If a regulator is unhelpful it is quite a disincentive for individuals who might be thinking of forming a small charitable CMC to help people with certain things, and that disincentive would impede access to justice. I am concerned, accordingly, that good firms providing access to justice might be handicapped or worse, and yet the bad firms may be able to cope with the regulatory burden. In short, this is a vital role for the FCA. This amendment is aimed at ensuring a cultural change in the FCA, and helping CMCs to interpret what I am sure will be complicated and long regulations. I beg to move.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara
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I rise briefly to support the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, in his quest for a more equitable arrangement with the powers that be in terms of the FCA. I think he would be the first to admit that this is a recurring theme in many of his contributions to debates around financial guidance and similar issues. On the surface, it seems extraordinary that a body so well resourced and organised as the FCA should be so diffident in coming forward with helpful advice to get people to work better and more constructively within the sector it is regulating.

This amendment has had to be framed to get it into a debate around claims management but it touches on a much wider issue about all the aspects of the FCA that we are talking about. Indeed, it is about an attitudinal and possibly a conduct approach, which is also part of it. I hope that there is a way to get this matter resolved one way or another because it is part and parcel of the other issues we have talked about in terms of duty of care and responsibility for consumers and the vulnerable. If the FCA—and indeed, by implication, the SFGB—took a more interactive and supportive stance, we would all be better off.

Baroness Buscombe Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Buscombe) (Con)
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My Lords, it is my turn to rise to my feet to support my noble friend Lord Young, who has been more than a co-pilot for this part of the Bill. Perhaps I see myself more as flight observer.

The amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, aims to ensure that the FCA helps firms to interpret the FCA rules. I absolutely accept and understand his reasons for tabling this amendment in terms of the importance of that interpretation and in order to be helpful. I agree that ensuring that firms understand the FCA’s rules will be vital to the success of this new regulatory framework, and I would like to draw the noble Earl’s attention to the steps the FCA already takes to ensure that firms are well informed of regulatory requirements.

The FCA undertakes a range of communications activities, including monthly e-newsletters summarising all the main changes that have taken place over the previous month and a programme of regional events across the UK for firms to discuss regulatory issues. The FCA holds round tables and other briefings on specific issues with trade associations and firms to help them better understand how new policy may impact their business models. It also maintains a smaller business practitioner panel which represents smaller regulated firms which may not otherwise have a strong voice in policy-making. I have noticed that the noble Earl has, quite rightly, throughout our debates in Committee focused on those smaller businesses that may not have their own strong voice.

On top of this, the FCA is aware of the need to engage with firms about new regulatory provisions. Building on the approach taken in the consumer credit transfer, the FCA will develop a clear communications strategy to engage with firms as a key part of the transition process. The FCA is committed to alerting firms to changes in regulation that affect them and has several well-established channels to support this—for example, in its regulation round-up, which is a monthly e-newsletter sent to more than 50,000 recipients summarising all the main changes that have taken place over the month. That will have links to further information on the FCA website. There is a programme of monthly regional events called “live and local”, across the UK, for firms to discuss the changes, and round tables and other briefings on specific issues. In addition, the FCA sends over 500 speakers each year to talk at industry conferences and events to discuss regulatory issues, and maintains regular relationships with trade associations.

These actions will help to support CMCs through the authorisation process as they work to meet the FCA’s regulatory requirements in the provision of claims management services. The FCA’s strategic objective is to ensure that the relevant markets function well, which will ensure that the market for CMCs’ services functions well. Communication on that basis is vital. The FCA also has a competitive objective, which requires it to have regard to the ease with which new entrants can enter the market. Of course, being able to understand the rules is critical to that.

I hope that the actions that I have set out help to support CMCs through the authorisation process. This short debate with the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, will, I hope, give a nudge to the FCA that it is of critical importance that it undertakes this important issue with care to make sure that the process works. For those reasons, I hope the noble Earl will withdraw his amendment.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull
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I am very grateful to the Minister for her words, which I shall have to read a bit more carefully in Hansard. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, for his generous words. I am sorry that he has had to listen to me a number of times on the FCA.

The list of things that the FCA is doing, which the Minister told us about, is much more to do with transmitting than receiving. You do not want to turn up to a round table as a business and talk about a new idea; you want to be able to talk about the new idea with your regulator and say, “Will this new idea work? I am thinking of doing it. Does it fall within section 772B on page 956 of your regulations?”. That is the sort of helpful thing that other regulators around the world have been able to do. In trying to fine-tune our honey trap for UK financial services, we are out of step with the rest of the world—and good regulation is one way in which we will attract more businesses in future to come to British markets.

I hear what the Minister says about that issue and wonder whether it might be possible for her to reflect a bit further about what I am saying, which is a different thing from all the various round tables and letters to 50,000 people and so on. It is about having the ability to have a hotline and to ring up and go to see your regulator to chat through a business issue in relation to the interpretation of blooming complicated regulations. It would be a great step change, and it would be a good opportunity to begin here; they will have to design a whole new system for regulating CMCs, and they could begin by building into the design from day one this element of something that would be very helpful to the small, good firms which I hope will grow up in the CMC space. I think the Minister is saying that she would agree to have a chat in the period before Report. If there were no progress, I might want to bring it back at Report. But on that basis, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 71 withdrawn.

Break in Debate

Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I support this amendment and speak to my Amendment 73 on the same topic, which seeks to achieve the same aim as Amendment 72. The scale of nuisance calls is of great concern, as has been expressed in previous debates on this Bill from noble Lords on all sides of the House. The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers states that an estimated 51 million cold calls or texts are received each year from regulated claims management companies for personal injury claims. Although such nuisance calls are supposed to be prevented by existing regulations, current measures are clearly ineffective.

Reforms of claims management companies are clearly urgently needed. I congratulate my noble friend on introducing the Bill. Carol Brady’s excellent independent review of the regulation of claims management firms recommended moving responsibility to the FCA, which is what the Bill does, and I wholly support that. However, it is also important to protect the public from nuisance calls and texts, which the claims management companies often plague people with; to reduce the level of speculative and even fraudulent claims, which cause added costs for companies and end up costing other consumers extra money; and to stop customers being fooled into paying up-front fees to unscrupulous claims management companies, which they then never recover after they discover that they did not have a valid claim in the first place.

FCA regulation of CMCs will help toughen the oversight of nuisance calls, but that move alone is not sufficient to properly protect consumers. The FCA has powers of enforcement that are better than the current regime; it can strip those found to be flouting the rules of their ability to operate and can hold directors personally liable. But a ban on unsolicited approaches would add much more protection. It would be clear to consumers that they should not engage with firms which contact them and encourage them to make spurious claims. Currently, the claims management companies act with impunity to entice people to make easy money. But of course this has the effect of imposing higher costs on the wider public, as we have already heard this afternoon, because firms will charge more to cover the risks of such claims. We have seen this clearly with whiplash injuries and we are seeing this with holiday sickness claims. Indeed, the Law Society has also written to me to support the banning of cold calls. ABTA cites the problems that we have already discussed about the dramatic rise in speculative and fraudulent claims. This will cause detriment to the wider public if we do not make sure that we take the opportunity in the Bill to retain effective measures to address the issue.

The Minister has already said how much she wishes that she could ban cold calling for pension companies, and there was support across the whole House for that measure, but it is questionable; we hope that we might be able to find a way to get that into the Bill. However, cold calling for claims management companies clearly is in scope of the Bill. When defining “claims culture” in a Parliamentary Answer on 19 April 2016, my honourable friend in another place, Dominic Raab, said:

“The Autumn Statement referred to the cost to society of the substantial industry that encourages claims through cold calling and other social nuisances and which increases premiums for consumers”.

Therefore the Government have clearly equated claims culture with cold calling, and the logical and fair action would surely be to ban cold calling for personal injury claims rather than restrict the rights of people who have been injured through no fault of their own, which the Government are expected to do in the forthcoming civil liability Bill. These proposals perhaps aim slightly at the wrong target, but the Bill gives the Government the opportunity to aim at the right target and ban cold calling, which they state encourages a claims culture.

As the Government recognise that there is a problem, and there is both industry and public support, the Bill could be amended to include this ban on cold calling. Whether it is through Amendment 72, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, or Amendment 73, in my own name and that of the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, I hope that we might take this opportunity to protect the public in this manner by banning cold calling.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull
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My Lords, I strongly support the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and I thank her for allowing me to add my name to her amendment. Obviously, I also strongly support the thinking behind the amendment in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, and I just wish to add one or two points.

There was a very helpful Which? report in November 2016 detailing the full horror of nuisance calls in the UK. For the report, telephone calls in 18 cities were sampled. In 17 of the cities—the survey took place over a long period—more than a third of all the private phone calls were nuisance calls, and in Glasgow, which topped this terrible table of nonsense, more than half of the calls in the sample were nuisance calls. The top type of nuisance call was about PPI, which of course is firmly a CMC nuisance. In commenting on the November 2016 report, Keith Brown MSP, the relevant Scottish Minister, was quoted as saying:

“These calls are a serious problem that can cause both emotional and financial harm, particularly to some of our most vulnerable citizens”.

A very horrible statistic in the report was that four in 10 people in Scotland who had received these calls felt intimidated by them. It is barbaric behaviour.

I was delighted to read in their manifesto what the Conservatives are going to do about cold calling on pensions. Like, I think, every other noble Lord in the House, I feel that we must use this opportunity to extend the ban to this area as well. I suppose that it is the businessman in me who does a quick upside/downside analysis. My upside analysis has a reduction of emotional and financial harm and intimidation, and my downside analysis has nothing. Perhaps the Minister could tell me whether she agrees with that analysis. I hope that she feels as I do—that it is a social necessity that we carry through one or other of these amendments and put it in the Bill.

Viscount Trenchard Portrait Viscount Trenchard
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My Lords, I too express support for both the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, and that proposed by my noble friend Lady Altmann, supported by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. I ask my noble friend the Minister to consider both amendments sympathetically. I expect that she is likely to say that she agrees with the amendments in principle but that this is not the time or the place for such a measure. However, surely it would be popular with the public to introduce a complete ban on unsolicited cold calling across a broad range of activities.

The Law Society and the ABI have both called for a crack-down on nuisance calling of all kinds. ABTA has also suggested that the Bill provides an opportunity to introduce an outright ban. As noble Lords are aware, solicitors, who are more tightly regulated than CMCs, are already banned from making unsolicited calls.

What I find particularly annoying is that if you answer your phone when you are overseas, you have to pay. I get so angry when this happens to me that I am sometimes more likely to start a conversation with the cold caller than I am to just hang up, which would obviously be the sensible thing to do. I say, “Do you know it’s three in the morning and I’m in Japan, and this is costing me money?”, but I find that the cold callers are not a very nice type of person in general and they are not sympathetic. My noble friend Lady Altmann mentioned that every year there are 51 million cold calls in respect of personal injury claims. In that case I am getting many more than my share, because I get about one a week.

It is a difficult area because, as noble Lords have pointed out in earlier debates, the FCA is not necessarily the most sympathetic regulator, and I agree with the noble Earl that we should look more closely at equivalent regulators in other countries. I had the privilege of serving under the noble Lord, Lord Burns, on the Joint Committee on Financial Services and Markets in 1999, which set up the FSA. We talked at great length about getting the balance right between protecting the industry and protecting the interests of the consumer. We did not necessarily get it right in the sense that the culture needs to evolve in a direction which is more sympathetic to the consumer.

Break in Debate

74: Clause 18, page 15, line 27, at end insert “and Scotland.”

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull
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My Lords, this is not really the final furlong but the final approach, I suppose, if we are to keep the metaphor going. I shall also speak to Amendment 76, which is connected. I begin by thanking the Minister, who has been very helpful to me on this. He was even sending me lucid emails at 7.21 am today. I also thank the Association of British Insurers, which has been extremely helpful in the preparation of my remarks.

These probing amendments address two issues that I perceive. First, Scotland has a separate legal system and major differences concerning no-win no-fee. There are major differences, too, in its regulation of CMCs. In Scotland, CMC activities are not regulated and referral fees are allowed—unlike in England, where CMCs are regulated and the paying of referral fees is an offence. How wrong it would then be if a substandard CMC could camp in Dumfries and aim at English consumers, free from regulatory control. I am certain that any form of cross-border arbitrage would be wholly against the admirable intentions of the Bill.

It appears, however, that this is exactly what is happening. DWF, the respected Manchester-head- quartered law practice, which has offices in Scotland and internationally, commented in February that,

“in recent years increased levels of fraud have been detected in Scotland, along with a significant rise in injury claims. In part, this is thought to be due to the effect of LASPO in England pushing claims management companies into Scotland, where their activities are not regulated and referral fees are allowed”.

There must be a general principle that businesses must not be allowed to arbitrage the UK’s regulatory and legal environments to the detriment of consumers. The FCA is, rightly, a UK-wide regulator in, for instance, non-life insurance. I feel strongly that it should be so here. Can the Minister comment on the position of the territorial scope of the Bill and whether this legal and regulatory arbitrage is acceptable to the Government?

My second point concerns CMCs in Scotland generally. I have already referred to the November 2016 Which? report and some of the rather horrifying position that it laid out. However, I note that three of the top five cities for nuisance calls were Scottish, and that in Scotland PPI calls were the number one type of nuisance call. In Glasgow, as I said, over half of the one million calls sampled were nuisance calls, according to the report.

This very week, Citizens Advice Scotland is running a campaign called Calling Time on Nuisance Calls to highlight the problem. I wish it well. It aims to reduce this pernicious problem, causing as it does, according to Keith Brown MSP, the responsible Minister, “emotional and financial harm” to Scottish citizens. This month the Scottish Government have put out a paper, A Response to Scotland’s Nuisance Calls Commission: An Action Plan. Keith Brown is behind the paper. On page 5, when referring to the statistics from which I have been quoting, he writes:

“Faced with these statistics, we must take action now that will make a difference, even as we press the UK Government to do more”.

What is that “more” where CMCs are concerned? Is the Bill not an ideal opportunity to deal with that and the regulatory and legal arbitrage problem to which I referred earlier? I strongly urge the UK and Scottish Governments to bring CMCs in Scotland under the experienced wing of the FCA. I beg to move.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara
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My Lords, we have Amendment 75 in this group, and I shall speak to it briefly. It is a gentle prod to the Government that in the clause that deals with commencement there is an extensive list of the various sections that come into play. Then at the top of the next page is just a general provision stating:

“The other provisions of this Act come into force on a day appointed by regulations”.

No date is given for that. It would be helpful if the Government could urge themselves to do a bit a more than just leave it open that regulations will come forward at some future date. A lot of what we have been talking about in this area would be helped if there was urgent action, and the urgency should apply to the regulations that need to come forward as well. I hope that will be well received by the Government at this point.

The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, has done another good service to us in bringing forward a possible lacuna in the approach being taken by the Government. It fits in with the various sensible amendments that I have been tabling, asking the Government to look again at the way in which the financing arrangements for debt advice in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland operate. I sense that there is also an issue around CMCs that needs a response. I look forward to hearing from the Minister.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham
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My Lords, Amendments 74 and 76, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, seek to extend Part 2 to Scotland. I am grateful to him for the way he set out the case for this extension. The Government carefully considered the scope of claims management regulation during the development of this policy. The current framework for claims management regulation, set out in the Compensation Act 2006, limits the extent of claims management regulation to England and Wales only and this will remain the case as we transfer regulation to the FCA. The matter is currently reserved, so we cannot simply make regulations to devolve the matter to the Scottish Government.

In reaching this decision, the Government had a dialogue with the Scottish Government to establish their view. Their view, as outlined in correspondence from the Scottish Business Minister, was that there is limited evidence of malpractice by CMCs in Scotland, and they concluded that extending the scope of claims management regulation would be unnecessary and disproportionate. That view is clearly challenged, and is about to be challenged again.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull
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The Scottish Government have come out with a long paper—it is a dozen pages or so—in which they publicly state completely the opposite. We have been citing these terrific statistics from Which?. I do not know at what point in time their views are dated, but events have moved on and the old views are clearly wanting.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham
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I am very grateful to the noble Earl, who has been very influential, as I will explain in a moment, in persuading the Government to think about this again. I will not quote it again, but what I just quoted was the view at the time we consulted. The Scottish Government concluded that regulation would be unnecessary and disproportionate. It may well be that, from the evidence the noble Earl referred to, since then they have changed their view.

As for regulatory arbitrage, it should not mean that a firm can evade regulation by moving across the border. The Bill gives the Treasury a power to define when a person should be treated as carrying on claims management activity in England and Wales, which gives government the flexibility to adapt the definition should the market change. When exercising this power, the Government intend to capture CMCs approaching consumers in England and Wales, and CMCs taking forward their claims should be subject to FCA regulation. This mirrors the current regulatory framework, in which the requirement to be authorised is not dependent on where the CMC is located but based on where it carries out the regulated service.

With regard to nuisance calls in Scotland, the Government continue to build on a package of measures to tackle this problem across the UK. We have already delivered a number of actions, including: a measure in the Digital Economy Act 2017 making it a requirement for the Information Commissioner to issue a statutory code of practice on direct marketing; requiring all direct marketing callers to provide caller line identification; and increasing the maximum level of monetary penalty the ICO can issue to £500,000 for serious breaches of the regulations. In the light of what the noble Earl has said, we will re-engage with the Scottish Government on this issue and keep our position on claims management regulation under review.

Amendment 75, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord McKenzie and Lord Stevenson, seeks to establish a timescale within which the Government will commence the legislation relating to the single financial guidance body. I am not sure the amendment would do what the noble Lord wants: these regulations would have to be made within 18 months of Royal Assent, but the regulations could then provide for these sections to come into effect after 18 months have passed. I am sure that was not the intention, but that is the reading of the amendment as I have interpreted it. As indicated in our response to the consultation on the single financial guidance body, the new body will come into existence no earlier than autumn 2018. We want to ensure that we provide for the best possible transition from the existing services to the new body. We are conscious, though, that the process has already created some uncertainty for existing services and for consumers. For that reason, as well as those given by the noble Lord, we would like to move as quickly as is practicable.

We also want to provide time for the chair and chief executive to assess and contribute to the key set-up arrangements. In line with Managing Public Money principles, the Bill must have passed Second Reading in the House of Commons before a recruitment exercise for the chair and chief executive can commence. We anticipate starting this recruitment exercise as soon as possible after that point. We are working with existing services and other key stakeholders to ensure that we remain on track to establish the new body. Although I sympathise with what the noble Lord is seeking to achieve with this amendment, I assure him we have every intention of establishing the new body as soon as is practically possible and ensuring that the body is able to deliver an improved, joined-up service to meet the needs of the public.

Against the background of the undertaking I have given to the noble Earl, and the assurances I have just given to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, I hope this amendment might be withdrawn and the others not pressed.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull
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I am very grateful to the Minister for his typically courteous response and the courteous way in which he dealt with my rather not-so-courteous interruption, for which I apologise. What he said about my point on arbitrage sounded very good, although I want to read it again in Hansard, as did the undertaking. I would like to see how things progress from here, to see if there is anything left on these issues to discuss on Report. But it sounds as if progress is being made, for which I thank the Government very much indeed. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 74 withdrawn.

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL] Debate

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Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL]

(Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Earl of Kinnoull Excerpts
Monday 11th September 2017

(3 years, 5 months ago)

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Department for Work and Pensions
Lord Deben Portrait Lord Deben (Con)
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My Lords, I point the House to my declaration of interests. I want to underline something that the noble Lord has just said about the danger of having conflicting areas of advice.

I am sure that my noble friend will be able to explain this, but it is already true in the financial services industry, and elsewhere, that often there are serious conflicts between the decisions being handed down, for example by the Financial Services Authority, the way that such decisions are interpreted by the ombudsman and the way that things come together. That is now a major incubus on the best companies in the field; therefore it is crucial for us to know in advance that what is being done here will not be yet another different series of things that people have to bring together. That is not to defend anybody who is doing wrong or to excuse people who have not bothered, but merely to say that the better the firm, the more important it is for it to be clear what governance it should be concerned with, what guidance means, and ensure that the opportunities for contradictions are eliminated before we start.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull (CB)
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My Lords, I rise briefly to speak to Amendment 56, which is in my name. I note that the clause on setting standards, which is only 11 lines long, has eight amendments. That underlines its importance.

The origins of Amendment 56 are my concerns with the behaviour of the Financial Conduct Authority; I have been regulated by it and its predecessors for the whole of my commercial career. I realise that the single financial guidance body will only be a client organisation of it, but I am concerned about FCA ethos leaking down to the SFGB.

Perhaps I should explain further. When a regulated client rings up the FCA with a specific question, asking for help in the interpretation of its rules, the FCA, in my direct experience, simply says, “We can’t give you any help in interpreting those rules”. That is quite unlike regulators in other jurisdictions in other places—I originally wrote down “competitor regulators”. That is very unhelpful, but while it is unhelpful in the financial services world, firms are usually big enough to afford advice from big firms of solicitors. Here we are often dealing with very small charities that do not have access to £1,000 per hour for Allen & Overy, so it is important that the SFGB offers that advice.

It has been said to me that there is a big problem concerning resourcing. I think that that is quite a difficult position to maintain. First, other similar regulators in other jurisdictions do not perceive those resourcing problems. In fact, most of the questions that come up, such as on a drafting issue, do so repeatedly and the same question will be asked by many of those being regulated. Secondly, just thinking about one particular bit of FCA regulation because I know about it—the regulation of insurance brokers—the FCA and those that are being regulated bear the cost of that regulation, which is more than twice as expensive as Ireland, Bermuda and Hong Kong. That multiple is far bigger than for France and Germany. I do not therefore think that good regulation has to be expensive.

The amendment is aimed at trying to ensure that that sort of behaviour is not replicated and that the SFGB remains friendly and helpful in interpreting the regulations that it will impose on those that it regulates.

Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann (Con)
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My Lords, I add my support to Amendment 56. It is important that if those who are involved in the actions that will be part of the new body want to know and to clarify what their duties are, there is clear direction for them. I share the concerns that a number of financial companies have offered to me: they want to abide by the regulations, yet when they ask the FCA, “If I do this, would that be compliant?” the response often is, “If you do it and we don’t like it, we’ll see you in court”, which really is not very helpful.

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL] Debate

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Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL]

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Wednesday 6th September 2017

(3 years, 5 months ago)

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Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann
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My Lords, I will also speak to Amendment 42E. Effectively, these amendments would ensure that anyone who received an unsolicited approach about their pension would have to go to Pension Wise before they were permitted to do anything or receive the guidance if they did not have an independent financial adviser.

I admit that this amendment is the result of the fact that we were unable to find a way to ban the cold calling that leads to the scams that we are trying to deal with here in the Bill. I also thank the Minister for the recent statement from the department that it has decided that it will ban cold calling for pensions. However, I hope your Lordships will agree that this seems like an ideal legislative vehicle in which to carry out the Government’s wish to ban cold calling and to protect the public effectively. Banning cold calling effectively protects members of the public from scams. Scams that result in people losing much or all of their pension are almost always the result of an unsolicited approach. So this is a roundabout way of trying to achieve something which is clearly in the public interest and which the Government themselves would like to do.

We could require people who had an unsolicited approach either to have a financial adviser to ensure that what they were doing was right or to have a conversation with our guidance service to assess what they were about to do. Presumably, the first question from whoever was speaking to them from the guidance service would be, “Is this the result of an unsolicited approach—a cold call or an email from someone you did not know, or a text or whatever?”. At that point, it would be possible to protect the person before they could sign away their pension in a scam. There is a classic trick of rushing people into parting with their money or signing on the dotted line by saying that it is a limited offer which is available only today or is about to run out. That would not be able to happen if somebody had had to make an appointment with Pension Wise or the guidance body and had discussed it first.

I hope that we can discuss this issue. If this is not the best way of achieving the aim, I hope that the Government will consider introducing into this Bill another method of achieving it so that we can start the ball rolling on protecting the public and getting rid of cold calls. We have done that for mortgages. I know that the Minister has said that it is a complex matter, but I would be very grateful if she could explain the complexity which means that we should pass up this opportunity to do something that the Government themselves want to do when no other legislative vehicle in which to do so is in sight for the next couple of years. I beg to move.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull (CB)
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My Lords, I had not intended to say very much but, after discussing this issue with the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, earlier, I thought that I should say a few words now. As I said at Second Reading, my interest is very much in Part 2 of the Bill—an area that is home territory for me and on which I have something to say. My drafting eye was caught by Amendment 42E. I feel that having a decent definition of “unsolicited communication” would be very valuable in legislative terms as we go through this process. It applies not just in this area, which has been very eloquently explained by the noble Baroness; it applies also in Part 2 and elsewhere. Therefore, I feel that it is worth debating it now.

As I see the definition, even simple things such as a letter or some sort of Facebook communication would not fall within it, so I simply say that it is worth having a good definition so that we know what a cold call is. It is not just a telephone call. I receive an awful lot of Part 2-type telephone calls at home, admittedly in Scotland, every single lunchtime, but there are other methods of cold calling. Certainly I have been shown very worrying letters by local vulnerable people in Scotland suggesting that they do something urgently about their pensions and so on.

Therefore, I think that we need that definition, and I strongly support the thinking behind these two amendments. I would be very happy to join a meeting to talk about how one might tweak definitions and whether a definition is needed here or elsewhere in the Bill, but I think that it would be very helpful to have a clear idea of what a cold call is.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff
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My Lords, has the definition of cold calling been sought from the trading standards group of scambassadors who have been looking at all types of scams? It would be incredibly helpful to have that definition. I also wonder whether this amendment is too narrow as written. However, I congratulate the noble Baroness on using this opportunity to do something that desperately needs to be done. The amount of scamming is a scandal.

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL] Debate

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Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL]

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Wednesday 5th July 2017

(3 years, 7 months ago)

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Department for Work and Pensions
Lord Holmes of Richmond Portrait Lord Holmes of Richmond (Con)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to take this opportunity to speak at Second Reading on this short but significant Bill. I welcome my noble friend to the Front Bench for her first legislative canter. This is not a bad steed to ride through the various stages. Like the noble Lords, Lord Kirkwood and Lord McKenzie, I was lucky enough to be on the ad hoc Lords Select Committee on Financial Exclusion, which published its report earlier this year. Will the Minister give us a hint as to when to expect the government response on the 22 recommendations made in that report?

It is delightful to see a stranger, Mr Guy Opperman, at the Bar, not only because it shows great commitment to be here for our deliberations but because it means that we do not have to wait for the Government’s response on the recommendation in the report that there should be a Minister responsible for financial inclusion or exclusion, depending on which way you choose to phrase it.

I thank all the organisations that sent such helpful, thoughtful briefings, not least Macmillan Cancer Support and Age UK. I also put on record at this point my thanks for everything that the FCA has done so far, not just in this area but across the piece. I think noble Lords will agree that we are incredibly fortunate in the UK to have a world-leading regulator in the FCA. That is not to ignore the comments already made that the role of the FCA may need to adapt and change, and I will make some suggestions later in this speech about how it will interact with the SFGB and work effectively with it.

We all know the old, and not particularly good, joke: “Is life worth living? It depends on the liver”. It is an awful joke, as is that, but I raise it at this point because, in terms of so much of the first part of the Bill, when one reaches a certain stage in life the joke is probably best reprised as: “Is life worth living? It depends on the nature and quality of, and access to, information, advice and guidance”. As has already been said, it is important to look at information, advice and guidance and to have clear definitions of each of them and delineations between all three. The Bill speaks on this to an extent, but is largely quiet about quality. There is a question around impartiality on all three of those points. There is no sense that anything the SFGB could offer on these points would in any sense overlap with anything coming from private providers because of the question of partiality.

On the costs of SFGB services, I strongly urge the Government, through the Minister, to consider how cost is considered, to look at all innovative and technological solutions for information, advice and guidance and to be clear for those who are currently digitally excluded and offline. The correlation between those who are digitally excluded and those who are financially excluded is stark and clear. As we move through the stages of the Bill, consideration should be given to priorities around the approach of the SFGB. How it chooses to deploy its functions and objectives will have a massive impact on the role it is able to play in this space.

I want to talk about funding. Jessie J is not entirely correct that it is not about the money. Often, it is absolutely about the money. The Bill says very little about the funding of this organisation. That will be critical for the impact it is able to have.

Similarly, on the independence of the SFGB, it is clear that the organisations which are rolling into this have played an important role but have had different experiences of the level of independence they have been able to exercise. One can understand the need for government to have an involvement. Although well-intended, whether it is measures or metrics, I hope it is never meddling. This should never be seen in the short term because, if we are talking about raising the nation’s financial capability, that is by no means an easy task and it is clearly not a short task.

There is a public policy role for the single body which is broader than financial capacity: research, evidence gathering and market intelligence gathering and sharing. We need to be thoughtful about how the single body goes about that and about whether anything needs to be said in the Bill to that effect.

I am nervous about stepping on to the ground of pensions, not least because the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, has spoken, and we are yet to hear from the pensions tsarina my noble friend Lady Altmann, but where the angels stop, I continue. There is a fair amount to be said in this space. TPAS, with which the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, is involved, has done an extraordinary job in this area, not least with its online and telephone service, helping more than 1.5 million people. I am delighted that the Bill wants this to continue, but during the legislative process I do not want to see any disembowelling or weakening of the role that TPAS has played.

Let me say a word on scams. Before our recent leather-wearing, optimism-sapping break, we seemed to have a reasonable amount of support about cold calling, putting some limits on people exiting their pension plans under the new rules and tightening up on the ability of individuals and organisations to set up fraudulent schemes. The Bill is silent on all three. It would be helpful if the Government would consider whether we might want to put them in in Committee and on Report because they are growing problems. They are not limited to pensions, but they are incredibly significant to pensions when one considers the costs and the implications of things going wrong for people at that age and stage of their lives.

Moving to what is not in the Bill, regarding how we measure the strength and success of any financial institution, I do not believe it should be measured merely by profit, the bottom line or even by employment, important though all those three are. In many ways, the greatest measure for any financial institution should be how it relates to the most vulnerable in society and in its consumer group—be they younger people, older people, disabled people or non-disabled—particularly those who are suffering significant health issues.

Again I refer to the excellent briefing from Macmillan Cancer Support on this. There are many such issues which people face in life and which put them into a vulnerable situation. Why do I choose to alight on cancer for this debate? Because of one shocking stat: by 2020, one in two of us will have experienced or will experience in our lifetime a cancer episode—50%. The great news is that survival rates—living with and then through cancer—are massively on the increase as well. That is why it is great to see innovations from charities and organisations such as Macmillan that do not just focus on the excellent care—important, vital and angelic though that is—but look to all the elements which enable a successful continuation of meaningful life with and through cancer.

What does this mean in terms of the Bill and how people relate to financial institutions? Only one in 10 people said they were prepared to tell their bank or building society that they had a cancer diagnosis. Of that one in 10, almost a quarter said they were dissatisfied with the reaction or response that they received from that financial institution. It is perhaps always beneficial to see this in an example. We will call him John: mid-40s, financially sound, a mortgage with 40% equity and a diagnosis of cancer. He goes to his bank, which says there is nothing it can do until he misses his first mortgage payment. There is no sense of engagement or involvement and no putting together a plan, even in those circumstances.

For John and the millions of people who may find themselves in a vulnerable position at some stage in their lives—let us be honest, we all will—I propose to bring forward in Committee an amendment that would impose a responsibility on financial institutions to have a reasonable duty of care for their vulnerable customers. When I consulted on this, it was extraordinary to hear from so many people that they thought such a responsibility surely must already be in place. I would be grateful to hear the Minister respond that the Government will receive such an amendment positively in Committee.

There is a great deal in this short but significant Bill. I have some final questions for my noble friend. What assessment has she made of the role of financial institutions towards vulnerable customers? Does she believe more needs to be done? To improve slightly on my noble friend Lord Hunt, I will quote myself from the speech I am still making: will she look favourably and positively on an amendment being brought forward in Committee to introduce a clause that would bring in a responsibility on financial institutions to exercise a reasonable duty of care—for their benefit and for the benefit of all consumers who may find themselves in those difficult life situations?

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull (CB)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, with his typically well-thought-through analysis in this important pair of policy areas. I join all noble Lords who have spoken so far, I think, in welcoming the noble Baroness to her new role and I wish her well in it. It is a very important Bill to start off on, and I hope it will go well. I declare my interests, too, as set out in the register, in particular those relating to my 25 years in the non-life insurance industry, which included large helpings of interactions with regulators in this country and many others.

As others do, I very much welcome the Bill. I had not intended initially to say anything about Part 1, but I was for a period a director of a UK group that included a subsidiary that offered pensions advisory services. Although that subsidiary represented less than 5% of group turnover and no profit, it took up a considerable amount of board time because of the fearful legal and regulatory complications in this area. These complications of course affect clients, the guidance providers we are discussing today, advice providers—which we were—and regulators alike. This Bill will go some way towards reducing complication, which must be good. My half point is really that, as we reach Committee, we must look through the lens that says that the provisions of the Bill must directionally produce greater simplicity, and indeed the many amendments that I am sure will come through should also be looked at through that same lens. This House has an amazing way of having ingenious thoughts put to it, but sometimes those will not add to the simplicity of the situation. We will win here by making things simple for all the people, including, as I said, guidance providers, advice providers and regulators, let alone the clients.

I wanted to speak about Part 2 and have three points to raise this afternoon. My first relates generally to access to justice, which has been mentioned before, where there is a delicate balance to be struck. On the one hand, it is of central importance that those not in a position to get legal or other assistance towards making valid claims can do so via no-win no-fee arrangements with professional firms at a reasonable cost. On the other hand, we have seen an unpleasant load of carpetbaggers arrive and abuse matters. Abuses range far and wide. There is the downright criminal, for example, as we have all read, masterminding or inciting fraud in whiplash cases, which has done so much damage to my beloved insurance industry. There is the disgraceful overcharging, seen in some PPI claims, where a very large percentage of the recovery goes to the CMC and the ordinary citizen who retained them has seemingly little redress.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, referred to the targeting of new loophole issues such as the “gastric sickness while on holiday” claim, where, just as the activity for CMCs on lucrative PPI business and on whiplash is dropping off, a huge spike in claims is hurtling towards the insurance industry and the tour operators. This area is developing rapidly. I personally do not believe, and I am sure no one else in this House does, that hygiene arrangements in the kitchens of holiday destinations have fallen off a cliff. Having listened to advertisements on commercial radio, I feel that the naughtiness of a few, being egged on by CMCs, will add to the cost of the holidays of the many in a wholly unnecessary way if not controlled.

Thus I found the very excellent 70 pages of Carol Brady’s independent review to be filled with not-so-common common sense, and I welcome the Government’s resolve to implement, in general, its recommendations. I note that the executive summary of her report says:

“The overwhelming majority of stakeholders, including the banking and insurance industries which have been hardest hit by CMC misconduct, argued that there is a legitimate need for CMCs, and therefore the Government should not seek to regulate them out of existence”.

The Bill seems firmly aimed at reaching that delicate balance that I referred to a moment ago, and I hope that the House will help on that process.

My second point comes off the back of that little sentence and relates to the FCA. I have spent a lot of my life being regulated by and interacting with the FCA and its predecessor organisations and, as I said, with analogous regulators in many jurisdictions in the western world. Regulators in financial services generally in some way charge the cost of regulation back to those that they regulate. Thus, one way of assessing how heavy the regulation is comes from comparing those relative costs. The British Insurance Brokers’ Association reports that the UK is 14 times more costly than Germany, where general insurance broking regulation is concerned, so I assume the regulatory burden is 14 times heavier. The UK regulator concerned there is the FCA. I could go on citing how the FCA has a record, I regret, of gold-plating, and how in other areas it represents a truly heavy burden on the businesses that it regulates. I have spoken about this previously on a number of occasions.

Accordingly, I am concerned that the good firms providing access to justice might be handicapped or worse, yet the bad firms may be able to cope with the regulatory burden. In short, the FCA has a vital role to play in the delicate balance that I have referred to. I should add that in other areas I feel the FCA has relied a bit too heavily on paper-based and process analysis and not at all on industry gossip. I urge it to rely on industry gossip because that will let it know where it should direct its energies, particularly in the area of CMCs. In any event, I would be most grateful for the Minister’s assurances on these concerns.

I turn to my third and final point. I join the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Kirkwood, in mentioning Scotland, though in respect of a slightly different set of issues. As has been observed, Scotland has a separate legal system and major differences concerning the way in which no-win no-fee operates, but I cannot see that there should be any difference in the regulation of CMCs. How wrong it would be if a substandard CMC could camp in, say, Dumfries and aim at English consumers, free from regulatory control. Indeed, I submit that any form of cross-border arbitrage would be wholly against the admirable intentions of the Bill.

My concerns are widely held. I know that they are held by at least two noble Lords, while DWF, the respected Manchester-based international law practice that has offices in Scotland, commented in February that,

“in recent years increased levels of fraud have been detected in Scotland, along with a significant rise in injury claims. In part this is thought to be due to the effect of LASPO”—

the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012—

“in England pushing claims management companies into Scotland, where their activities are not regulated and referral fees are allowed”.

That is a warning bell that I think we in this Chamber ought to listen to hard.

The FCA is, rightly, a UK-wide regulator in, for instance, the non-life insurance industry. While I might moan a bit, I think the FCA is upright and highly professional, and I strongly feel that it should have a UK-wide role here. I therefore ask the Minister to comment on the position regarding the territorial scope of the Bill. It seems that the interests of the UK and of those citizens who most need the services of properly functioning claims management companies would best be served by having a single market and a single regulator. Is she in touch with Scottish Ministers to discuss that? In closing, I once again welcome the Bill.

Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is an honour to follow so many excellent speeches from so many noble Lords. This House contributes huge expertise to our legislation. I also welcome my noble friend to her new ministerial role and congratulate her on her excellent speech.

I warmly welcome the aims of the Bill. I am wholly supportive of a unified approach to public financial education and free, impartial and unbiased guidance to help people to make better financial decisions. The level of financial education in Britain is very low and the level of consumer debt worryingly high. The latest figures show that consumer borrowing is rising strongly, and the aim of the Bill—to help the public to understand how to manage their finances—is absolutely right.

However, I am concerned that the wording of the Bill will unhelpfully prolong a major misconception in personal finance that has permeated the industry for years but could at last be addressed. I am talking about the use of the word “advice”. For far too long there has been a public perception that this thing called “financial advice” is free. In the past, of course, it often was apparently free because so-called advisers were being remunerated by a financial company for selling its products. They were not really advisers; they were salesmen. This commission-driven culture caused many scandals, and it incentivised behaviour that was not in the customers’ best interests. Rightly, the regulator has tried to clamp down on such practices. It now insists on a stark differentiation between what can be called “advice” in personal financial services and what is merely guidance, information or sales. This is not a minor technical point; it is a fundamental issue. Indeed, we need a proper definition of what constitutes guidance, which I do not believe we yet have.

The new single financial guidance body will look at pension guidance, money guidance, a national strategy to improve financial education, and debt advice. In fact this debt advice does not even have to be regulated but in some cases can be delivered by unregulated bodies. That is worrying. The word “advice” is a hangover from past thinking. It is the last vestige of an old system that needs updating. You cannot give what is called “advice” in a personal financial sense without being regulated. Nowadays, with auto-enrolment into workplace pensions and with pension freedoms available to people over 55, focusing only on the debt part will make any so-called debt advice incomplete and thus not holistic. However, if the debt help or counselling takes account of pension matters—as it should, especially given auto-enrolment—then the new service from the single financial guidance body could fall under regulated financial advice rules and would stray beyond pension guidance. This opens up the Government or those delivering the service of the new body to risk, and perpetuates confusion. At last there is an opportunity to address some of the confusion in the context of financial help for individual citizens. Guidance, help, information, education and counselling can be available for free, but advice is not.

There has been much misuse of the word “advice” for so long, even at the top of government. When Chancellor George Osborne announced the pension freedoms, he said the Government would also ensure that members of the public would have access to free impartial advice. What he meant, and what was introduced, was free guidance, not advice. Indeed, the helpful briefing from the House of Lords for today’s debate talks about merging three existing advice channels into a single body, yet those three bodies do not give advice even though their names misleadingly suggest that they do. The Money Advice Service and the Pensions Advisory Service do not actually give financial advice.

The October 2015 consultation on public financial guidance and the March 2016 public financial guidance review led to the decision to replace the Money Advice Service with a new streamlined body for money guidance, and then a second new body to merge the Pensions Advisory Service and Pension Wise. It seems to me that pensions cannot be divorced from other finances, whether that means savings accounts, auto-enrolment, debt or whatever. The thinking behind having two bodies was wrong, and I believe having one body is right. The old idea was based on products, not people. People have a broader need than one product, and I hope the new guidance body will give us an opportunity to think about it from the point of view of the people who need help, rather than the products that tend to be focused on by the industry.

Unfortunately, the Bill prolongs the problem. If the debt piece is called advice, then it has to take account of the pension piece, and once it is doing that, the pension element will have to be advice too, not just guidance. I ask my noble friend the Minister to consider amending the word used by the single financial guidance body and the FCA so that it is debt guidance, not debt advice. We could use other words, such as debt resolution, counselling or help, but guidance seems to make sense.

On another topic, I am seriously concerned that the Bill must not pose a threat to the marvellous work done by the Pensions Advisory Service, which has rightly been commended by many noble Lords. This is one of the jewels in the public financial guidance system. Staffed significantly by volunteers, TPAS helps the public to understand pension issues and can intervene to assist if there are difficulties with pension schemes. It even has a dedicated helpline for women, who so often lose out in pensions and need special help. It is funded from the general levy on pension schemes, and the costs are low but the value it delivers is high. The Pension Wise service is also funded by the pensions guidance levy, but I note that it has just been announced that the levy for pension guidance has been cut. Satisfaction ratings for those services are really high. Please can my noble friend offer some reassurance that the operations of TPAS and Pension Wise will not be downgraded but will be preserved and protected after the restructuring?

Turning briefly to claims management companies, as has already been pointed out, the Conservative manifesto promised to consider banning claims management companies from cold-calling members of the public. This is absolutely right, and the Bill should clamp down on CMCs which operate unscrupulously and their unsolicited calls or texts—which so many noble Lords, such as me, regularly receive. As the APIL says, lawyers are not allowed to cold call, so why should CMCs? Tougher regulation and capping fees can help, but banning nuisance cold calls that encourage people to make false claims is absolutely right.

Let us not stop there. To echo the calls from, among others, the noble Lords, Lord McKenzie and Lord Sharkey, I ask my noble friend to consider bringing back the abandoned legislation to ban cold-calling on pensions, too. If others do not, I hope to table a probing amendment in Committee on the issue, as it is one that I feel so strongly about and had hoped would be resolved. It is important that we can give the public the message that if someone cold calls them about their pension, they are breaking the law, so just hang up. I am also interested in the idea put forward by consumer group Which?. It suggests requiring companies to pay the claims management firms, rather than consumers having to pay from any compensation. If the companies have to pay, it may deter some of the cowboys, because they will be better able to recognise poor practice.

Finally, I raise two further items. The Bill proposes not carrying over powers for the financial guidance body to help the public with secondary annuities. I know that this has been abandoned for now, but I still hope that somehow a change of heart may arise and that people may indeed be able to sell their unwanted annuities. Transferring this power to the single financial guidance body would at least ensure that there would not be any new unnecessary barriers in the way to that.

The problem of net pay schemes rumbles on. Many of the lowest earners, particularly women, are losing out on money that they should have, and the size of the problem is growing, but employees are powerless to get this money back. I suggest that the single financial guidance body should have a remit to help employers and members to understand the need to ensure that the pension scheme used for low earners in auto-enrolment does not force them to pay more for their pensions than they should. I ask my noble friend to go back to the department and consider this matter again carefully.

Having said all that, I stress that I welcome the Bill and its overall aims and look forward to seeing it pass through Committee and its other stages—slightly amended, I hope—and on to the statute book.