Debates between Earl of Kinnoull and Baroness Altmann

There have been 7 exchanges between Earl of Kinnoull and Baroness Altmann

1 Tue 1st May 2018 Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL]
Department for Work and Pensions
5 interactions (885 words)
2 Tue 21st November 2017 Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL]
Department for Work and Pensions
2 interactions (322 words)
3 Tue 31st October 2017 Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL]
Department for Work and Pensions
5 interactions (1,917 words)
4 Wed 13th September 2017 Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL]
Cabinet Office
5 interactions (1,426 words)
5 Mon 11th September 2017 Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL]
Department for Work and Pensions
2 interactions (488 words)
6 Wed 6th September 2017 Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL]
Cabinet Office
2 interactions (795 words)
7 Wed 5th July 2017 Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL]
Department for Work and Pensions
2 interactions (2,816 words)

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL]

(Ping Pong (Hansard): House of Lords)
Debate between Earl of Kinnoull and Baroness Altmann
Tuesday 1st May 2018

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
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.

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL]

(3rd reading (Minutes of Proceedings): House of Lords)
Debate between Earl of Kinnoull and Baroness Altmann
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.

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL]

(Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Debate between Earl of Kinnoull and Baroness Altmann
Tuesday 31st October 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 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.

Break in Debate

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.

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL]

(Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Debate between Earl of Kinnoull and Baroness Altmann
Wednesday 13th September 2017

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Cabinet Office
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

Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann
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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.

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL]

(Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Debate between Earl of Kinnoull and Baroness Altmann
Monday 11th September 2017

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
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]

(Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard - continued): House of Lords)
Debate between Earl of Kinnoull and Baroness Altmann
Wednesday 6th September 2017

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Cabinet Office
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.

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL]

(2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords)
Debate between Earl of Kinnoull and Baroness Altmann
Wednesday 5th July 2017

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
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)
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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.