Jeremy Quin contributions to the Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2018

Mon 22nd January 2018 Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [Lords] (Commons Chamber)
2nd reading: House of Commons
3 interactions (1,267 words)

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [Lords]

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
Jeremy Quin Excerpts
Monday 22nd January 2018

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy
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22 Jan 2018, 6:21 p.m.

I do not mean that debt is higher as a proportion of income; I meant that it is higher as a percentage of disposable income, which the Minister will find it is.

The Government need to do three things with the scheme if they are properly to grant the breathing space people need. First, the scheme must be applicable to all relevant debts, including central and local government debt. To take one example, I recently met the organisation Every Child Leaving Care Matters, where I learned about the problems some care leavers face with things such as council tax obligations. After years of having these bills paid for them, they can often find themselves with mounting debt and without the support, including family support, that many of us here take for granted. That is why I was delighted when Labour-led Hull City Council announced recently that nearly 350 youngsters leaving the care system in the city would not have to pay council tax in Hull until they turned 21.

The scheme will be one of the first policies of its kind in the country when it starts next April and could mean that each of these people saves at least £900 a year. That is fantastic news for Hull but unfortunately not for the rest of my constituents in the East Riding of Yorkshire Council. We can end this unacceptable postcode lottery by supporting the Bill today. It is not just care leavers who are affected either—many people owe money to central and local government—and by ensuring that these debts are included in the breathing space scheme we can help care leavers and many others keep their heads above water.

Secondly, the scheme must make sure that the Government’s consultation, while thorough, is carried out as quickly as possible. There is a danger that the words,

“As soon as reasonably practicable”

in clause 8 will allow the Government to drag their feet in deciding whether to introduce this breathing space scheme. That must not be allowed to happen. The Secretary of State must act quickly to make sure that a scheme is put in place and that support is offered to those who need it now.

Thirdly, the scheme must ensure that the breathing space is long enough to provide time for families to stabilise their finances and that support is in place to allow them to pay their debts in a manageable way. It is no use holding back the creditors from the door for a randomly chosen six-week period if, at the end of those six weeks, the family can still not pay. If we are to set a breathing space, we must get the period right.

We must get this right. Not to do so would not be in the interests of our economy, which already struggles with high personal debt; it would not be in the interests of creditors, who, according to statistics from Scotland, collect more of what is owed to them when a payment plan is followed; and it would definitely not be in the interests of the many families in my constituency drowning in an ocean of personal debt. On clauses 7 and 8 at least, the Government find themselves in the rare position of enjoying cross-party support and with a rare opportunity to make my constituents’ lives a little easier. On their behalf, I ask the Minister and the Secretary of State to act quickly and, further to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) from the Front Bench, to take on board my points and grasp the opportunity being offered to help so many people.

Jeremy Quin Portrait Jeremy Quin (Horsham) (Con)
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22 Jan 2018, 6:25 p.m.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy). I was interested in what she had to say, particularly about care leavers, which is a subject I hope we will take up later.

Notwithstanding its many flaws, the market economy is the best means we have to improve the long-term living standards of our people. The pace of technological change, however, and the impact wrought have, for all their many improvements, given rise to real concern among consumers. We have moved rapidly from a pensions and savings environment that, for most, was relatively simple: a pension entitlement derived from the state or from an employer after many years—perhaps a lifetime—of continuous service; a relationship with a known bank manager in a local branch; and savings, where they existed, that perhaps focused on state provision such as national savings or premium bonds.

Instead, we have moved towards a system where choice is far wider. Returns are likely to be far better, but risks undoubtedly increase. This transformation has taken place at the same time as confidence and trust in financial service providers—I speak as a former company adviser—has rarely been lower. The products available can and will act in the interests of society and play a role in particular in meeting the needs of our expanding retired population, but we need to provide people with access to the tools and services they need to plan their financial future with confidence. Not enough people know how to manage their money effectively, and it is in all our interests that we help to bridge that gap. Above all, however, we have an obligation to ensure that those who are most in need of support and guidance receive it.

It is my privilege to be a member of the Financial Inclusion Commission, which has championed many of these issues, and I am delighted to welcome the Second Reading of the Bill, as indeed I did, in advance of its arriving in the House, in an Adjournment debate on financial inclusion at the end of last year. As a member of the Work and Pensions Committee, I enjoyed meeting the some of the existing providers: Pension Wise and the Money Advice Service and Pensions Advisory Service. These have given sterling service, and I am delighted to understand that the leaderships of all three organisations view the creation of a single body as the best means to ensure that those who are struggling can easily access free and impartial guidance to help them make more effective decisions about their pensions and seek advice on debt.

We have already heard a great deal this afternoon on the scale of the problem the Bill seeks to help address, and I will not repeat what has been said, but one fact we have not heard is that Citizens Advice has found that 13.5 million adults find managing money and making financial decisions challenging. People across the income spectrum lack good financial guidance and advice to make the right long-term decisions for old age. Increasing longevity only contributes further to this phenomenon. The fact that we have 8.5 million people auto-enrolled for a pension is good news indeed, but as a recent report from the Select Committee highlights, the fact that more people will be able to benefit from the pension freedoms the Government have introduced makes the availability of effective guidance all the more critical.

The creation of a single financial guidance body is being welcomed not only across the House but among charities and industry. At present, according to Which?, and as was alluded to earlier, only 36% of consumers use Government advisory bodies as an information source about their financial options. I hope that the creation of this body will help to increase uptake, particularly among those who have most to benefit. The Bill sets out the objective that guidance be available to those most in need of support. In the Adjournment debate, I raised issues faced by the disabled, lone parents and single pensioners, while my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) has just referred to the terminally ill. I hope that the Minister will agree that, as we measure the success of this body, we will scrutinise its ability to direct support to the hardest-to-reach people who need it most.

More broadly, I hope that the establishment of this body will serve as an important step towards a culture change and a situation where guidance is sought as a norm at key points in one’s life. Pension Wise was a significant step towards this goal, but given the importance of pension saving earlier in life, I am keen to see this service available to all, rather than restricted to the over-50s.

I appreciate that the terms of the body are yet to be specified, but I would be interested to hear the Minister’s view on the accessibility of pension guidance earlier in life. Unlike the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray), who made a good contribution earlier, I was pleased to learn that the name of the body had not yet been announced. We will therefore not have a bunch of imposters setting up rival sites. I welcome the specific offence being established in the Bill. The last thing any of us would want is for those who are seeking help to find themselves victims of scams.

In any event, in common with the hon. Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue), I urge caution about too much reinvention of the wheel. Originally, the intention was for the single financial guidance body to be purely a commissioning body. We are all aware of trusted and well-established organisations in our own constituencies, such as Citizens Advice, at national level, and many more organisations at local level. In my case, that includes the Horsham Debt Advice Service. The new body will be most effective as an enabler, a director of resource and an upholder of standards. I trust that that is but the first of many steps to enhance individuals’ ability to manage their finances effectively, and I have sympathy with the points raised earlier about financial resilience and financial education.

I look forward in particular to the report on the pensions dashboard that, as I understand from the Secretary of State’s words at the Dispatch Box, will be produced in March. The dashboard will be of significant benefit to consumers and will help to drive cultural change in the industry and among savers. I know that I am not alone in thinking that, alongside the pensions dashboard, more visibility for other forms of saving would be advantageous.

Finally, I want to touch on the debt respite provisions that have been incorporated into the Bill. I welcome them, and I hope that the guidance body’s report and the Government action that follows will be accelerated as swiftly as possible, as the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle has said, consistent with effective legislation. Although the provisions are useful and appropriate, they will not solve the problem of debt. The nature of the debt providers matters. I hope that I am allowed, as the chair of the all-party group on credit unions, to make a small plug in favour of credit unions. The amount that they lend has doubled since 2006, and they now have 1.3 million members across the country. That is to be welcomed. The more people save with and borrow from responsible providers, the better. For all who get into difficulty, a breathing space is a practical and essential measure. I commend the Bill to the House.

Ronnie Cowan Portrait Ronnie Cowan (Inverclyde) (SNP)
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22 Jan 2018, 6:32 p.m.

I welcome the chance to speak in this debate. I will make a short speech on a topic that has been touched on by Members on both sides of the House. We seem to agree that the introduction of a duty of care for financial service providers would be a good thing. That is not currently in the Bill, but the Bill gives us a vital opportunity to take steps towards introducing such a duty of care and, in doing so, transforming the support that customers receive from their financial service providers.

As is recognised in the Bill, ensuring that people have access to the right help and advice as soon as possible is essential to stopping financial problems escalating. For people who are ill, or who are considered vulnerable in other ways, it becomes even more important. It is well known that being diagnosed with a health condition such as cancer can come with a huge and sudden financial impact. Research by Macmillan Cancer Support found that four out of five people with cancer are impacted financially by their diagnosis, which makes them, on average, £570 a month worse off. That impact, as one would expect, leaves many people struggling to keep up with their financial commitments.

Banks, building societies and other financial services providers are in a unique position to step in. They could offer short-term measures, such as flexibility on mortgage payments or interest freezes on credit cards and loans, as well as ensuring that customers are signposted early to financial help, which can help them to avoid problem debt. Some banks have made progress on that. For example, Lloyds and Nationwide have worked in partnership with Macmillan to deliver specialist support to customers who are affected by cancer. However, the overall picture is still mixed. Only one in nine people with cancer tell their bank about their diagnosis. Many people do not think that their bank can help them, or, worse, they worry that disclosing their diagnosis will have negative consequences. Of those who did tell their bank, nearly a quarter were dissatisfied with the support they received. That, to me, seems like a huge missed opportunity.

When someone is living with a long-term health condition such as cancer, the last thing they should be worrying about is money. But if people do not feel comfortable accessing support, or the support is not there when they try, their financial worries can quickly escalate. If financial service providers had a legal duty of care towards their customers, people would be given the confidence to disclose their diagnosis, knowing that they could trust their bank to act in their best interests.

For banks and other providers, that would mean being ready to respond to their customers’ needs, and designing the vital products and services that would help people focus on their health. Of course, the duty would not just help people with cancer. It would have wide-ranging benefits because it would ensure that the banking sector played its part in helping customers, particularly those who might be vulnerable, when they needed it most.

As Members may be aware, the Financial Conduct Authority has committed to publishing a discussion paper on the duty of care. Although that is welcome, I and many other Members have significant concerns about the timescale. The discussion paper will form part of the FCA’s handbook review, which will not take place until after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU is clear. What that timeframe means in reality is not yet clear. What we know is that a discussion paper would be only the start of a long process of consultation and legislation, so it could be many years before a duty of care came into effect. Meanwhile, during that time, nearly 1,000 people every day in the UK will receive the devastating news that they have cancer.

This is key. Often when we discuss such issues to do with financial regulation, the debates are technical and can feel removed from the general public. The duty of care is different. The public are starting to take a real interest in the issue, and those who see the terrible impact on people of conditions such as cancer are demanding that we take action. Take Miranda, a Macmillan nurse. In her role helping patients, she sees the financial impact of cancer at first hand. I want to share a couple of quotes from Miranda with the House:

“It’s enough to cope with the effects of the treatment and the psychological effects of the diagnosis, without having to worry about money as well”.

She continues:

“To relieve the pressure of not having to pay your mortgage for six months or so…will be a tremendous help to people.”

Supported by Macmillan, Miranda has written an open letter in support of a duty of care. It has been signed by nearly 20,000 people—that is 20,000 people who want action. They do not want to wait years for change. What would the Minister say to those people? How would he justify any delay to them?

Of course, we all appreciate that Brexit will have significant implications for the financial services industry and that they will need careful thought, but that is not a valid reason for delaying the duty of care. Action is needed now, so that future changes are built on the foundation that financial services firms have a duty of care to their customers.

I urge the Minister to listen to what is being said today and to commit to working with the FCA to deliver faster action on the duty of care. He should listen to the cross-party concerns that have been set out here and in the other place. He should listen to the numerous organisations that have supported the call for a duty of care, to the Lords Select Committee on Financial Exclusion, which recommended its introduction, and to the 20,000 people who have called on the Government to take action. I thank Macmillan Cancer Support for its parliamentary briefing, which has contributed in a big way to my speech. Finally, will the Minister meet representatives of Macmillan Cancer Support to discuss the introduction of a duty of care?