All 4 Earl of Listowel contributions to the Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2018

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Wed 19th Jul 2017
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Wed 19th Jul 2017
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Wed 6th Sep 2017
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Tue 21st Nov 2017
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3rd reading (Minutes of Proceedings): House of Lords

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL] Debate

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Department: Department for Work and Pensions

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL]

Earl of Listowel Excerpts
Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 19th July 2017

(6 years, 11 months ago)

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Read Full debate Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2018 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 1-I(Rev) Revised marshalled list for Committee (PDF, 106KB) - (18 Jul 2017)
Lord Haskel Portrait Lord Haskel (Lab)
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My Lords, I served on the ad hoc committee, and I would like to add one point. One thing that came out loud and clear when we were working on the committee is that people’s financial lives are very complicated. Everything is interrelated. People do not actually differentiate between their pensions, their debts or their mortgage—the whole gamut of things. I support the noble Baroness’s amendment because it describes more accurately the way in which people view their financial lives. They want advice on the totality, not just on one particular aspect, because they see it all as being interrelated. That is why I think this is probably a good amendment.

Earl of Listowel Portrait The Earl of Listowel (CB)
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My Lords, I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, will not mind my taking this opportunity, which was probably taken at Second Reading, to pay tribute to the work of organisations in this area, particularly to Toynbee Hall and the late Earl Attlee, who was a trustee of Toynbee Hall. When my father left university at Oxbridge, he went and lived in Toynbee Hall in the 1930s and learned a bit about what it was like living in that area at that time. It shaped Clement Attlee’s view of the world, of course, so perhaps the welfare state that we have now is partly due to the work of Toynbee Hall. It gives advice to care leaders, and the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, has spoken of the evidence that it gave him. It is organisations like that which have been providing support and advice to vulnerable families and individuals over many years that we really need to celebrate and give credit to.

Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD)
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My Lords, the amendments moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, are significant. They go to the heart of whether or not this new body is going to be structured in such a way, with a set of responsibilities and clear communication with the public, that will allow it to become properly effective. I think that is what everyone in the Committee both hopes and wants.

It is clear from listening to every Member across the Committee that we have a situation at the moment where the confusion between advice, counselling and guidance is intense. We need clarification around the use of language. The noble Baroness put it well in saying that this new body should be shaped, and therefore the legislation has to be shaped, from the perspective of the potential user, not from the perspective of the legal gurus whose primary objective is to bring three pre-existing bodies together—bodies that were set up in a different financial era with rather different purposes. I have no objection to them being brought together, but the primary purpose of the Bill is surely not to bring three bodies together but to end up with a body that meets the public need in handling the complexity of modern finance, ranging all the way through from debt at one extreme to savings and investments at the other, and recognising that most people in today’s world are engaged right across that spectrum, sometimes at different phases of their life but often all at the same time. There are complications now when people get into debt, but obviously some of that debt is considered desirable in terms of mortgages. We have ISAs of many different kinds, all with somewhat different purposes.

Pension funds used to provide defined benefits but now we have defined contribution schemes. The Committee will be well aware that many people now with defined contribution schemes have pots that they are beginning to draw down and remove from their pension schemes. At this point in time, that may not be that significant, because for many people that will be a relatively small amount of money because the change in the structure of pensions has been recent, but with every year the group of people newly coming through to this opportunity to draw down is looking at a pension that represents a bigger and bigger piece of the financing that has to support them through the rest of their lives.

The general confusion has to be tackled urgently. I point the Committee to the Financial Conduct Authority report, Retirement Outcomes Review, a very recent document—within the last couple of weeks—which speaks almost with some despair about the percentage of pensions that are being drawn down without any advice being taken at all. The Committee may not be aware that,

“Accessing pots early has become ‘the new norm’. 72% of pots … have been accessed by consumers under 65, most of whom have taken lump sums”.


That is a huge change. The report says:

“Most consumers choose the ‘path of least resistance’”—


in other words, they do not review the various options and instead go with their current provider when they do the draw-down. However,

“Many consumers buy drawdown without advice but may need further protection to manage their drawdown effectively”.


The report talks about the risks of people,

“paying more in charges and/or tax”,

than they should,

“choosing unsuitable investment strategies … losing valuable benefits”,

and,

“running out of pension savings sooner than expected”.

To get that group to take advice, we need a body that is fit for purpose. It seems to me that the amendments proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, are exactly designed to create a body that is fit for purpose in its use of language, presentation of its programme and shaping of its objectives, because it will have worked through these issues of advice, counselling and guidance and eliminated the endless confusion, which is, I would suggest, one reason why many people have not taken advice—they are, frankly, so confused about the offer that is out there that they have no idea which way to turn. It is interesting that the FCA report at no point talks about people seeking guidance and therefore getting appropriate outcomes; it recognises that advice is the direction that will be essential for most people. This body surely has to play a role in that, so language clarity is required.

In reference to the title or naming of this new organisation, we note that the Government have kept to themselves the powers to name the organisation. They have not shared with us what the title will be but, as we talk about this language confusion, it is rather important. The Committee will also note that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee recommended that it should, in fact, be Parliament that sets the name, recognising the importance of that name both in shaping strategy and in making sure that communication with the public is as clear as possible and that the body does not continue to struggle with the existing difficulties that have set by terminology.

I hope that the Government will take this whole issue away, recognise its significance, work through it and come back with something that will let this new body be as effective as it could possibly be in meeting the public need.

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Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara
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My Lords, we are not having much success with our amendments here on the other side. I had hoped that the climate of a Government not having a clear majority in either House and the general spirit of wanting to work together on improving things would allow them to put at least one change of wording into the Bill as it stands, if nothing else. But I see that the tyranny of the Bill is with us still, and that there is a determination in the serried ranks of those looking with stern faces from the sidelines to ensure that Ministers do not depart in a single way from the track by showing weakness. In fact, we think they would be strengthening the Bill by accepting some of our amendments.

At this moment, we are giving them two options for the breathing space. The very good amendment put down in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, and the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, is echoed by Amendment 41, which is in my name and that of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle, whom I thank very much for their support. There is a bit of a movement across the House whereby the time has come for a breathing space. I hope that the response to this amendment will be better than before.

As has been said—I said this on an earlier amendment—it would be much better if the Long Title of the Bill were such that it would take a real policy direction, and that the amendments were therefore not curtailed in the way that they are. We are having to seek that the body, as part of a strategic function, has generalised powers. Would we go as far as a Henry VIII power? I think that our arms could be twisted on that. As the Minister is aware, they have been offered on previous occasions; in debating the Digital Economy Bill, we were almost throwing Henry VIII powers at them. But they would not take them, the tyranny of the Bill being so strong.

Here is another option: there is no doubt that a scheme called breathing space has been working well in Scotland. It has done so now for nearly 10 years and been through three or four refinements. Some of the questions raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, have therefore already been addressed there, and I do not think he would find it quite so bad. I know that the noble Viscount is shocked by having the curtain of secrecy torn down regarding what happens in the creditors’ dark rooms when they discover that they have unpayable debts. However, I can tell him that if a breathing space is built in, as it has been in Scotland, it is possible to get returns to creditors that are much nearer the full 100% which they seek. We may be talking about 60%, 70% or 80%. Indeed, in the Scottish system the debt arrangement scheme has a pretty good record of getting 90% or 95% back to the creditors.

The noble Viscount should not be too worried about small entrepreneurs and others, when this is not their province. We are talking about household bills, credit card companies, banks and, increasingly, the Inland Revenue—it has money to spare, has it not? We are talking about local authorities, store cards and utility companies. These are the bodies creating the conditions, not necessarily in any destructive sense, under which it is too easy for people to borrow beyond their means to repay. The spiral of debt moves very fast when they suddenly get into it and find themselves in a hopeless situation. In StepChange—I am sure it was true of the other debt advice organisations—our best day in the year for business, but our worst day because of what was happening, was 23 January. That is the day when the credit card bills come in for Christmas and at that point, reality sometimes sinks in and people realise that they are out of their depth. They cannot respond and that is when the panic calls start.

One theme that we have not addressed in the Bill so far, but which I want to nail now, is the real problem there is in getting people to engage with the services that are available. We can label or signpost them—we can do what we like—but getting people to move from the vague realisation that there is a problem to actually seeking help in a constructive way that will get them out of their debt is the hidden problem. As well as making sure that the bodies we set up through the Bill work with the sole purpose of making sure that the consumer or individual citizen is at the heart of what they do, we have to recognise that we are not doing it well at the moment and there is still a long way to go.

Research carried out when I was at StepChange showed, I think, that it took about a year from people’s first indication of problems with their debts to seeking a debt management plan and going ahead with one. It must therefore be right that we all make every effort we can to ensure that there are systems, bodies, organisations, structures, mechanisms and techniques that will get people on to a way that gets them out of the debt, because the damage is so great. The breathing space scheme works in Scotland, and it is not difficult to see how it could be adapted to work in England. At the moment, there is no statutory scheme. We are talking about a breathing space period where interests, charges and collection activities are postponed without a requirement to make payments. That would give people time to seek advice and stabilise their finances enough for their debt adviser to recommend how to get out of it.

There is another thing about debt advice. I meant to make this point on an earlier amendment, and I apologise for getting carried away by what we were trying to do when we were discussing names. The physical product of most debt advice that is being exchanged in return for people’s engagement is a budget, which most people do not have. I am guilty of this, and most people in the Chamber probably are as well, as I do not have absolute certainty about where every penny of the very limited number of pennies I have under my direct control goes every month. Multiply that by the 63 million people in this country and you recognise that there is a bit of a problem here. If you ask them, people have no idea of what they are doing with their money. When I first went to Step Change, I was told that of 100 people who rang it, 30 people were obviously suitable to go straight on to a debt management plan and did, but about 10 of them actually had enough money to sort out their problems but did not know it. It was a question of going through every item of their expenditure line by line and making them believe that it was going to be all right and that, although it might take four or five years, there was certainly a solution. They did have the money, but they just did not realise it.

There is both a very simple solution to a lot of the problems we are seeing and a very complicated one, but both would benefit from having time to work through the options and to make sure that people are signed on and can go forward and get out of debt. We have to crack getting people. I think the Minister used the phrase “hot keying”, and I agree. If you catch them at any point in the cycle, hold on to them. Make them do something about their problem. Get them engaged and excited—and not only will you get them out of their debt problems but they will get an educational experience. It is only when people are in the crisis of not knowing what they are going to do, how they are going spend their money and whether they have enough cash to buy a meal for the kids that evening that they begin to feel, “I must get out of this and get it right in future”. That is what we must do.

When you can get a breathing space in, it is a sensible solution. It would work. The problem is that the Bill as currently constructed does not easily allow us to put this in as an amendment, but at the very least can we make sure that the powers exist for this to be taken as the next step forward, because it is certainly worth supporting?

Earl of Listowel Portrait The Earl of Listowel
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My Lords, on cold calling, my mother suffered from dementia and, in the early stages, before we realised quite was the problem was, we were very concerned about attempts to defraud her, so I say to the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, that it is a problem not just for young people but for the elderly and the increasing number of people with dementia. I welcome that aspect of the debate.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for tabling Amendment 41, to which I was pleased to add my name. I am grateful for the expertise on this issue that he brings to the Committee with his long involvement with StepChange. It has been good to hear the Government’s concern for those who have been left behind and for families who are struggling. I welcome that their manifesto said:

“We will adopt a ‘Breathing Space’ scheme, with the right safeguards to prevent abuse, so that someone in serious problem debt may apply for legal protection from further interest, charges and enforcement action for a period of up to six weeks”.


That is a very welcome commitment from the Government. I think the noble Lord is just seeking to help the Government to meet that commitment as soon as possible.

As treasurer of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children, I am particularly concerned about the way that family debt impacts on children. We know from Children’s Society research that, where a family has multiple creditors, the children fare worst. This welcome breathing space scheme would enable multiple creditors to be held at bay for a period of six weeks. What often happens is that, just because one creditor will not agree, there will not be that breathing space and proper planning cannot be put in place, so this is a very important proposal.

As a particular example, I think about care leavers. Until fairly recently, one-third of them left local authority care at the age of 16, and more recently one-quarter of them left at that age. We are making further progress on that. They are young, they have had trauma and they are out in the world fairly unsupported. Over the past 15 years, as a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Looked After Childrenand Care Leavers, I have heard many young people talking about how they got into debt and about issues about paying for their housing. We know that care leavers are historically overrepresented among rough sleepers, often because they have fallen into debt around housing.

I can give as an example Emma—I shall call her Emma—who sought advice from Toynbee Hall. She was a care leaver. In 2015, she began a zero-hours contract. She had council housing, but she fell into debt, so over the course of about a year and half she was being pursued by the council for not paying her council tax and rent arrears and by a number of non-priority creditors. This caused her a great deal of stress. At the end of 2016, she got herself a regular job and was able to get a plan and begin to pay her debts off. How much better for that young woman if help had been there at the beginning of 2015. She would not have had to go through that and the creditors would have got their payment. At times, she was having to choose whether to eat, pay her rent or pay her debts. I hope the Minister can give a sympathetic response to the amendment.

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Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara
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I feel humbled if in any sense what I was saying was taken as a criticism of the wonderful work that is being done to make sure that the good things in the Bill get done. I in no sense intended to say that, and I hope that the officials will accept my apology, gracefully given. I was trying to say that there is a mentality growing about the tyranny of the Bill, which is set up in part because those who have responsibility for drafting it—not always Ministers—feel very attached to it, having gone through the process, done the consultations and decided things. It is inevitable and perfectly understandable that they do not want to see it changed. I was making a light quip at Ministers. If I were in their position, I would probably be saying exactly the same thing—but it does not make it right.

Earl of Listowel Portrait The Earl of Listowel
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Before the noble Lord withdraws his amendment, I thank the Minister for her kind words to me. I gently remind her that the right reverend Prelate had her name attached to Amendment 41 as well. It has been a very difficult and bruising time recently, and we now have the breathing space of summer, so I welcome the Minister’s reaffirmed commitment to reintroducing breathing space eventually. It is reassuring that there is work going on to look at how these measures will be brought about. I hope that, after the breathing space of the summer, we may perhaps have a more fruitful conversation in the autumn. I thank her for her reply.

Baroness Buscombe Portrait Baroness Buscombe
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I thank the noble Earl. Of course, I take very seriously everything that noble Lords have said in this evening’s debate and will take it back to the department to think it through carefully between now and Report.

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL] Debate

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Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL]

Earl of Listowel Excerpts
Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard - continued): House of Lords
Wednesday 19th July 2017

(6 years, 11 months ago)

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Read Full debate Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2018 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 1-I(Rev) Revised marshalled list for Committee (PDF, 106KB) - (18 Jul 2017)
Baroness Fookes Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Fookes) (Con)
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I point out to noble Lords that if this amendment were agreed, I could not call Amendment 12 by reason of pre-emption.

Earl of Listowel Portrait The Earl of Listowel (CB)
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My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 35. In thinking about services for children, many of us are often concerned that we do not begin with the needs of the child and work back from there; rather, we think, “How much money have we got to spend?”, and then we start introducing the services according to what we can afford to do. So to begin by thinking how the service would need to be funded to deliver the reasonable needs of the public in England seems to be a very good starting place, and I hope the Minister can give a sympathetic reply.

Baroness Buscombe Portrait Baroness Buscombe
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson and Lord McKenzie, for tabling these amendments. The noble Lords have tabled a number of amendments that would make changes to the single financial guidance body’s debt advice function. The approach of this legislation is to enable the body to respond to changing needs and cultural and technological development by giving it broad functions. It is our intention that the body commissions out the delivery of its service, as appropriate. Debt advice is currently commissioned, and I cannot see this changing any time soon. If we had not intended that the body should commission for its delivery services, including debt, there would have been no need for Clause 4 to specifically provide for this. That is just in relation to the whole issue of debt advice. I wanted to start off with that.

Clause 2 sets out the functions and objectives of the new body, including the debt advice function. The provision of debt advice is a core function of the new body. Problem debt can blight individuals’ lives, and it is crucial that support is available to those who need it. Amendments 11, 13, 35 and 43, proposed by the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson and Lord McKenzie, offer a substantial revision of the new body’s debt advice function. They are made up of five key parts, which specify that: first, the body must commission advice; secondly, advice must be free at the point of use; thirdly, advice must meet the needs of people in financial crisis in England; fourthly, advice must be commissioned on the basis of consultation with relevant bodies involved in the provision of information, guidance and advice on personal debt; and, finally, sufficient funds must be dedicated to the body’s debt advice function. I shall address each of these components in turn.

In the first instance, it will be important that the new body commissions other parties in its efforts to ensure that debt advice is available to members of the public when they need help. As drafted, Clause 2 and Clause 4 together enable the delivery of regulated debt advice through delivery partners. Noble Lords will know that MAS currently acts as a commissioning body for debt advice; the Government intend the new body to fulfil the same, or a similar, function.

In the second instance, the Government absolutely agree that any help funded by the new body should be free at the point of use. The Government’s intention is to ensure that help is available to those who need it, and we would not wish to prevent members of the public from accessing help on the grounds of cost. Pension Wise, the Pensions Advisory Service and the Money Advice Service currently offer free-to-client help and, as the Government have noted in their consultations, the new body will do the same. Indeed, by bringing together pensions guidance, money guidance and debt advice into one organisation, this measure allows for greater provision of free-to-client help. The Government expect that savings will be made as MAS, TPAS and Pension Wise are brought together and, as a result, we expect a greater proportion of levy funding to be made available for the delivery of front-line services to members of the public.

On the third point, on the needs of people in financial crisis, it is of course critical that those in crisis receive support. However, I am concerned that the proposed amendment restricts the activities of the new body, placing too great an emphasis on those who are already in crisis while failing to mention help that the body might give to members of the public who are approaching moments of crisis. I think of the example of Emma, who the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, referred to on an earlier amendment. As the noble Earl quite rightly said, if only it could have been possible for her to approach something earlier—that has to be an aim of this body. It must be able to help not only those who are in real crisis but those sensing that they are getting into what we might colloquially call “hot water” and need help.

On the fourth point, I agree with the intention behind this amendment, which I believe is to ensure that the new body will work closely with those it is commissioning and that there is a comprehensive strategy for the sector. The spirit of this amendment is already captured by the body’s strategic function and its stated objectives. The strategic function explicitly states that the body will be required to work with others in the financial services industry, the devolved authorities and the public and voluntary sectors, which together capture the organisations specified by the noble Lord in his amendment. The body’s five objectives, including delivering its functions to those most in need, in areas where it is lacking and in the most cost-effective way, would not be deliverable if the body did not consult others.

Finally, I turn to the final point on ensuring sufficient debt advice funding. The Government agree that it is important that the body is able to meet increasing demand for debt advice in England if it is required to do so. As drafted, the current clauses allow funding for debt advice to increase so that debt advice is available when there is increased demand from members of the public. The body will submit a business plan for approval by the Secretary of State, which will form the basis on which the Secretary of State will instruct the Financial Conduct Authority to raise funds from its levy. The Government are confident that these arrangements are robust and will give the new body the ability to ensure that its debt advice function is properly funded. Decisions about how the body should allocate its resources, including to debt advice, are best taken by the management of the body in the light of its agreed business plan. It is, after all, accountable to Ministers for its decisions, who are in turn accountable to Parliament.

I would also like to observe that the Money Advice Service is working closely with partners on the plans for an independent review of the funding arrangements for the sector. Under its strategic function, the new body will be able to continue this valuable work as part of its aim to improve the ability of members of the public to manage debt.

Having heard these explanations, I hope the noble Lords will agree that the amendments are not necessary. I therefore urge the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, to withdraw the amendment.

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Moved by
16A: Clause 2, page 2, line 32, after “children” insert “, care leavers”
Earl of Listowel Portrait The Earl of Listowel
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My Lords, this group of amendments begins our discussion on the very important matter of financial education. Clause 2(7) reads:

“The strategic function is to support and co-ordinate the development of a national strategy to improve … the provision of financial education to children and young people”.


My amendment would add “care leavers” to that group.

I apologise to the Minister, to officials and to noble Lords for having tabled this amendment late. Sometimes I take a little too much on, and I apologise in particular to the officials. I appreciate that the Minister’s reply may have to be short and, if she wishes to write to me, I shall quite understand.

The main gist of my concern is to ensure that young people in care get the financial education they need. The Minister has just highlighted how important it is to get in early before the troubles arise, and I shall expand on that briefly.

I welcome the Children and Social Work Act, which was brought forward in the previous Session and clarified the duties of local authorities to both young people in care and care leavers. Peripheral to that, there is an ongoing review of personal advisers, looking at how well advised care leavers are on matters such as housing, employment, education and training. This is an opportunity to get reassurance that thinking about financial education will be fully integrated in that ongoing process.

Learning to manage finances is often a part of normal growing up. However, research by the Children’s Society in 2016 found that almost half of local authorities do not provide financial education for children leaving their care. It is well documented that care leavers are particularly at risk of falling into financial difficulty and in the absence of a strong support network, the move to independence and the associated shocks and stresses can mean that the risk of debt can be very high. On average, children leave home at the age of 24 in this country, so care leavers have both the disadvantage of early trauma and are leaving and becoming independent much earlier than most of our children.

I urge the Minister to ensure that guidance to support the development of local authorities and others regarding care leavers in their area should include the commitment to provide high-quality financial education prior to young people leaving care.

Will the Minister join with me in welcoming the encouraging news that almost 30 local authorities—I believe it is 27—across England have taken the decision to exempt care leavers from council tax? That can be a particularly large bill and difficult debt for these young people up until the age of 25. Many local authorities which have a duty to care for these young people when they find themselves in difficult situations, are vigorously pursuing them to pay their council tax debt. That cannot be right and it is good that so many local authorities recognise it and I hope that many more will, too. I hope the Minister will encourage them in their efforts tonight.

I look forward to the Minister’s reply. I beg to move.

Viscount Brookeborough Portrait Viscount Brookeborough (CB)
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My Lords, I welcome these amendments because they attract attention to the subject of education, which, in our report on financial exclusion, was a major part. The top of Clause 2(7) states:

“The strategic function is to support and co-ordinate the development”.


It does not appear to have a lot of force behind it. Anything that we can do for care leavers, or anyone else, is most welcome, but one has to go back a stage and ask about the perfectly normal schooling that goes on: is the education actually occurring and, no matter what we write here, will it happen?

We wrote in our report:

“When considering provision in English secondary schools it is also important to note that the national curriculum”—


to which financial education was added in 2014—

“applies only to maintained schools (those run by local authorities) and not to academies, free schools and the independent sector”.

That has resulted in there being still no requirement for English primary schools to include financial education as part of their teaching. In addition, as only 35% of state-funded secondary schools are now maintained schools, the obligation to teach financial education does not apply at all to nearly two-thirds of all secondary schools. Therefore, there was a big hole in this from the start. No matter what we say in these clauses to attract attention to all parts of schooling, the basic financial education is not taking place, as the noble Earl said.

From the point of view of our report, the one thing I could never understand is that we are talking about financial education throughout people’s lives, and the only time we have the total population—in this case of England—within our control and have their attention is at school. If we do not have compulsory financial education of some kind in school, when things go wrong later we do not know where we are trying to pick them up from.

When we raised this subject, the question of teacher time arose. We also heard the comment that teachers were not qualified to teach financial education. However, at the moment we have no financial education and anybody must be qualified to teach children—we all had money boxes—to save a bit, to add it up, to save it for the weekend, even if it is done with sweets or whatever. They complicate this by saying, “How can teachers be capable of teaching children about pensions and so on?”. We are not getting to the point of teaching them about things like that in the first place, and surely there must be a simple level playing field by the time everybody leaves school, or they are permitted to leave at the earliest age of 15. By that time all young people should have been given a very basic financial education: how to save money, where to put it, what a bank is for and so on. I do not believe that not being able to teach them about investing in the stock market or pensions is the crucial point.

As I understand it, a comment made in the Youth Parliament, made up of young people who have left school and are ready to go to university, showed that one of their highest priorities was that they had not been given any financial education. These are life skills. All education, whether it is in physics, chemistry or geography, is part of a young person’s education and is for a job, but financial education is a basic skill and the lack of it is the cause of so many social problems in our country. Why can we not ensure a level of financial skill when young people leave school so that anybody picking them up later on knows that they have only to go back so far? Instead, we have some young people with a little knowledge and many with none. So I totally support these amendments for drawing attention to the issue, but I am afraid that we have to go back one stage further. We have to do something about this because once young people have left school, we no longer have the audience and we wait for them to appear in debt, homeless and everything else. For those reasons, I certainly support the amendment.

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Earl of Listowel Portrait The Earl of Listowel
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for her sympathetic and encouraging response. I am particularly pleased to hear that the body is going to look at issues such as youth detention and young people with learning difficulties, and have a strategic role in that. I thank noble Lords, particularly the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, who spoke in support of this issue around early education and access to financial education. I am most grateful to them.

A particular issue for young people in care is that they may not have easy access to school and may be changing schools a lot. It is very important that the people in the parental position—the corporate parent—take that opportunity to teach them about financial matters, especially as they often have such early responsibility for their own financial matters. Perhaps the Minister might consider writing to me on what progress is being made in improving the financial education delivered by local authorities to young people in care. In 2016, the Children’s Society report found that only half of young people leaving care had had that experience. Is there some progress on that? If the Minister has time to do that, that would be welcome. It is very good news that we now have a Minister, Guy Opperman, looking at financial inclusion. That is welcome. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 16A withdrawn.

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL] Debate

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Department: Department for Work and Pensions

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL]

Earl of Listowel Excerpts
Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 6th September 2017

(6 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2018 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 1-II Second marshalled list for Committee (PDF, 108KB) - (4 Sep 2017)
Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins (CB)
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My Lords, I support the amendments in this group, particularly Amendments 19 and 22. I remind the Committee of my interest as president of the Money Advice Trust, the national charity.

These amendments have been tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and therefore carry a great deal of weight given his recent experience as a member of the Financial Exclusion Committee. I was pleased to see the Government follow that committee’s recommendation for a dedicated Minister for Pensions and Financial Inclusion, creating this additional ministerial brief within the DWP. That is a very welcome step.

Amendments 19 and 22 offer an opportunity for building further on that, by expanding the remit of the single financial guidance body’s strategic function to include improving financial inclusion. The amendments in effect implement several of the Financial Exclusion Committee’s other recommendations, which have particular relevance to the objectives that the Bill sets out for the new body. The ministerial brief for financial inclusion within the DWP, together with that department’s role in relation to the new body, seems a perfect alignment of policy. With the right resourcing, the new body’s objectives and its expertise could equip it very well to lead on financial inclusion, so I hope very much that the Minister will be able to respond positively to these amendments.

Earl of Listowel Portrait The Earl of Listowel (CB)
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My Lords, I offer my support for these amendments in considering the particular needs of young people in care and leaving care. Most young people leaving care do so by the age of 18—many are still under that age—and they have to run their financial lives. There is a duty on the local authority to provide support but many of them are plunged, too early in their lives, into the sorts of responsibilities that such education would help them to deal with more effectively. Half of children from run-of-the-mill families are still with their parents up to the age of 20, so I can see particular benefit from these amendments for vulnerable young people who may have to look after themselves very early in their lives.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB)
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My Lords, first, I declare my interest as chair of the National Mental Capacity Forum. I join in the comments of my noble friends Lady Coussins and Lord Listowel in welcoming the spirit of these amendments. Perhaps I may flag up, as I would be glad to have it on the record, that these amendments may not go far enough for those who have difficulty with financial issues.

Capacity impairments are related not only to mental ill-health. They may be related to frailty and there may be fluctuating mental capacity. For a group of people with communication difficulties, since banks are closing and local branches are no longer there, there is no one with whom they can communicate. If they have speech difficulties, they certainly cannot communicate well over the phone. They may have a mobility tremor, for example, which makes it difficult for them to use the internet without assistance, yet they may want to manage their affairs with a degree of privacy, which they can do in a face-to-face consultation with somebody in a bank.

In addition to impaired capacity and disability issues, there is another difficulty we increasingly see, particularly among the older population: coercion, which may be from other family members and a form of elder abuse. It can be very subtle indeed. I had a meeting this morning with Building Societies Association representatives, who are certainly detecting coercion in face-to-face encounters. But I also asked them whether there is any evidence of detecting coercion in the online systems that are in place. There is none, which becomes worrying. Although this group is right on the borderline of impaired capacity, they are inhibited from exercising their capacity because they are frightened of being intimidated by others.

Another group of concern is those with addictive behaviours such as the hypomania the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, referred to in his opening remarks. For example, people may have a gambling addiction—a very defined addiction—and be increasingly enticed into spending more or doing a great deal of shopping during the night, when they are hypomanic. The control options on accounts should really be strengthened, so that someone can put them on but not have the ability to take them off themselves without a consultative delay period. The problem is that when they are hypomanic, they think it very reasonable to spend or gamble massively, but later they realise they did not have the capacity to do so. I hope the Government will look very favourably on these amendments and that when we come back on Report, they might even consider extending them a bit further.

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Earl of Listowel Portrait The Earl of Listowel
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I support Amendment 24, to which I have added my name, and I hope that the Minister will find it helpful. I am particularly concerned about parents and children involved in indebtedness and the pressure on families that arises from that—something that we discussed during the first day in Committee. At a time of crisis, when Governments have to make very difficult decisions, they often seem to make short-term decisions that can have a long-term, adverse impact on society, particularly on families. There are many routes to productivity or failure to be productive, but family dysfunction is a core basis of the failure to produce productive citizens.

More and more evidence is becoming clear that if children—even those up to the age of 25—experience adverse circumstances or difficult relationships within the family, particularly during the pregnancy or immediately after birth, their ability to do well at school, make and keep relationships, and have good physical and mental health well into adult life is impaired. This is a helpful amendment to give us a bit more breathing space and think more about the decisions that we as parliamentarians come to in the heat of very difficult economic circumstances, and about what impact they have on the long-term success and productivity of our society.

I visited Germany earlier this year and was impressed to learn that none of the shops is open on Sundays. It is not permitted for businesses to send emails after 8 pm at night. It is a cultural norm not to work beyond 6 pm in the evening. It is seen as inefficient to do so. Germans seem to have a far better work/life balance than us and are renowned to be more productive than we are. I am sure that there are many more factors to take into consideration, but under pressure and in the heat of the moment, with the short-term decisions that seem so important, perhaps we lose sight of the fundamentals.

I give credit to the Government for recognising the fundamental importance of family life and the significant investment that they have made in supporting couple relationships. The high levels of employment that the Government have achieved have reinforced couple relationships. Professor Melhuish makes clear that high levels of employment tend to conduce to less family breakdown. These are complicated matters, but a report of this kind could give us space to step back and think about the implications of the decisions that we are feeling pressed to make at the moment, particularly what impact they may have on families and the ability of our children to thrive in the future. I hope that the Minister can give a sympathetic response to this amendment.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab)
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My Lords, I support the amendment introduced forcefully by my noble friend Lady Drake. I am not sure who is responding from the other side—whether it will be a transatlantic journey or just a short hop—but I am sure that it will be entertaining nonetheless. I have three points to make and I hope that the Minister will be able to fit them into the very brief swoop around the skies that he is about to make.

The amendment tries to flesh out a little more of our earlier discussion. In so doing, it makes this point: there needs to be a body that has responsibility for assessing many of the activities that either advertently or inadvertently are made by government at all levels, whether regional or national, and by other bodies involved in the space that we are talking about—people’s lives and their capabilities to cope with the financing of them. The method chosen by my noble friend in her proposal, supported by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, is to think about how other policies initiated by government as a whole need to be measured and impacted.

My noble friend mentioned the impact assessment. I have the impact statement for this very Bill. Those who have read it—and I have—can see that, as well as the broader discussions about the intricacies of the costs of this provision, there are statements around the impact of the measures that we are discussing on competition, innovation, the wider economy, equality, the environment, and social and sustainable development. This is not new ground, in terms of what the Government have to do to assess that the proposals they are bringing forward for legislation are properly considered.

I have reflected a little on what was said in our earlier debate this evening. The noble Lord made a point in relation to trying to sort out the impact that it could have been alleged was being made on the SFGB, as opposed to the FCA or indeed the Government. It would be sorted if more work were done by those preparing policies across the range of government activities in the manner specified in this amendment. Therefore, I commend it to him.

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL] Debate

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Department: Department for Work and Pensions

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL]

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

(6 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2018 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 70-I Marshalled list for Third Reading (PDF, 106KB) - (20 Nov 2017)
Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope Portrait Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope (LD)
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My Lords, I add my congratulations; this has been a very good outcome. The Minister has done a splendid job in reflecting the concerns. The Bill is now much better as a result, and she deserves some of the credit for that. I am interested particularly in Amendment 3, because vulnerable people are now much better cared for. It will put more work, pressure and responsibility in the direction of the new body. I begin to wonder whether it will be expected realistically to carry the weight of some of these new, important duties with the financial envelope that we have—we will have time to discuss that afterwards—but the shape and framework that the body now has is a lot better for serving the needs of the most vulnerable and distressed.

I hope that consideration of people with vulnerabilities will also include signposting to the official social security benefits that exist so that they are taken up—universal credit will obviously increase take-up automatically, but a lot of other residual benefits still sit outside universal credit. Signposting under Amendment 3 would add value to having the power in the Bill. I look forward to seeing how this works out. It is a much better provision than was previously the case, and the Minister deserves credit for that.

Earl of Listowel Portrait The Earl of Listowel (CB)
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I, too, thank the Minister and noble Lords for making significant progress. Perhaps I may ask for clarification: will care leavers be included in the “vulnerable” group? I apologise to your Lordships for being absent from Report—I was not able to be present—so I ask this question now.

Baroness Buscombe Portrait Baroness Buscombe
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There is no question: care leavers will be included in this group.

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Viscount Brookeborough Portrait Viscount Brookeborough (CB)
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My Lords, I add my praise to the two Front Benches. I should not think they could sustain much more joint praise, but on this occasion they have moved mountains in the length of time that this has taken. I emphasise how important the respite is from the point of view that every single case is a personal case of one family. It is not a matter of statistics, of speaking only of “30% of the families”; every single case that is allowed to go through this debt is a tragedy.

I say on behalf of Northern Ireland, if not the devolved parts of the UK, that it is good to see that it may be extended there, especially, from my point of view, to Northern Ireland. There are many individuals who, although they may not be listening to this, will unknowingly benefit from this to a tremendous extent. I thank all parties involved.

Earl of Listowel Portrait The Earl of Listowel (CB)
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My Lords, I add my thanks to the Minister for her hard work and ingenuity in securing this amendment today. It has certainly moved a long way since our first discussion in Committee. She may remember that at the time I raised the issue of a particular care leaver who had a very stressful experience over two years because of the difficulties that we are addressing now. I am really grateful to her, particularly for care leavers who, after all, begin with a difficult start in their families, often have to experience independence very early in life and too often find themselves in financial difficulties. This will be particularly helpful for them. I appreciate the clarity that the Minister gave on the urgency with which the Government are moving forward on this, which was reassuring.

There is one point on which I would like clarification, and the Minister may care to write to me on this. Many care leavers are in difficulty around council tax. Some enlightened local authorities are now deciding not to charge care leavers but many still do so. When care leavers are pursued by their local authority for council tax, they can get into the position of the corporate parent aggressively pursuing their corporate child through the courts. I hope the dispensation will address that particular point.

One further point that the Minister may care to cover in correspondence: I believe that in Scotland the experience has been that six weeks may not be enough of a respite period to build a robust plan to go forward. I hope she might look at what is going on in Scotland and that we may build on that learning, perhaps looking at increasing the length of the respite period in light of the experience there.

I thank the Minister and all those noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, who took this forward, as well as the charity StepChange, which has been so helpful in all these matters.

Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope Portrait Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope (LD)
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My Lords, following on from the comments made by the noble Earl about Scotland, I hope the Minister will encourage dialogue with the authorities in Scotland that have some experience of running these schemes. I am not saying the system is perfect but it would appear a bit absurd not to take advantage of the opportunity, through ministerial joint committees and what have you, to learn as much as can be learned and extract information about the experience in Scotland. I hope that might benefit and expedite the formulation of the scheme in due course.

An important point that I would like the Minister to confirm is that the provisions of this new scheme, which I greatly welcome, apply also to public bodies, local authorities and housing associations. If it does not do that then it will not be as effective, so I hope consideration will be given to that question.

If everything that can go right does go right—if I may invite the Minister to be optimistic for a moment—how quickly does she think this could be done? I absolutely understand the commitment that she has made; she has made it clear that she is personally committed to the scheme, and I am sure she will do everything that she can to deliver it. However, we live in uncertain times, and it may be that she gets promoted on to further and better things and other Ministers come in. If that were the case, we might look to the new Minister for Financial Inclusion to continue her work.

By what milestones can we measure progress of implementation of the scheme? It is so easy for these things just to disappear slowly by desuetude and disinterest, and by the throng and press of other matters in the departmental in-tray for such things to slip considerably. Can she assure us on the efforts that will be made to ensure that it stays up to the best possible implementation timetable to get done quickly, and on what sanctions there would be if the single financial guidance body did not keep up to the timetable limits set in the Bill? We would be even more reassured that this is a useful scheme if we had some sense of how quickly it will be accessible to ordinary people in the United Kingdom.