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Debt Advice

Volume 558: debated on Thursday 7 February 2013

The Government established the Money Advice Service in July 2011 to co-ordinate and monitor free debt advice. We also support advice through the National Debtline and Citizens Advice. Nevertheless, the evidence suggests that many people are still unaware that there is free debt advice and so fall prey to high up-front fees and profit-driven advisers. Today, I am therefore announcing a new debt management protocol that will protect consumers and ensure they know where to go for free debt management advice.

Last week, I listened to a pointless radio advert from the Money Advice Service that advised people how to get a mortgage. Surely debt advice from the Government should focus on priorities such as vulnerable families who are finding it difficult to afford basic food or their rent, far less the luxury of obtaining a mortgage.

I understand the frustration that the hon. Lady feels. Of course, the Money Advice Service is there to provide not only debt advice, but information on a wide range of financial issues and there is place for that. She highlights the huge importance of raising the awareness of the free debt advice that is available. The new protocol that has been published today should help to do that, because debt management providers who charge for their services will have to make people aware that free options are available before they sign up. That will help people to get the advice that they need.

Last week, I met representatives of Corby citizens advice bureau, which does an excellent job in my local community. Given the appalling human cost of the cumulative impact of the Government’s measures, such as the cuts in council tax benefit and housing benefit, and the crisis that we expect to see in April when universal credit is implemented, does the Minister regret scrapping the financial inclusion fund, with the loss of 500 citizens advice advisers at a time when their help is most needed?

It is a little rich of Labour Members to talk about the difficult situation that people are in as if they had nothing whatever to do with it. They forget that they left this country in a perilous economic situation. The hon. Gentleman is right to recognise that people are finding it very difficult. That is why the Government are helping by cutting income tax for 20 million people and taking more than 2 million of the lowest-paid people out of paying income tax altogether.