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Consumer Advice and Assistance

Volume 635: debated on Monday 5 February 2018

2. What steps the Government are taking to promote the delivery of effective consumer financial advice and assistance. (903732)

We are committed to ensuring that consumers across the United Kingdom have access to high quality, impartial and free pensions and money guidance services. That is why we are setting up the new single financial guidance body, which is presently in Bill Committee in this House. My hon. Friend will be aware that the Conservative Government’s commitment is to a debt respite scheme and a breathing space specifically to address debt.

In a recent poll conducted by Populus and The Guardian, 32% of British workers were found to have less than £500 in savings. What are the Government doing to promote long-term savings and to support employers such as the 1,340 in Chichester that have auto-enrolled their employees, currently benefiting 13,000 people?

When the debt respite scheme and the breathing space are put into law, the provisions will make a manifest difference to how people are dealt with in respect of debt, as will the single financial guidance body. I would be failing in my duty not to pay tribute to the 1,340 employers in my hon. Friend’s constituency of Chichester that are doing a brilliant job in ensuring that there are more people in auto-enrolment, adding to the 9.1 million people across the country who are now auto-enrolled in a private pension—something that we should be very proud of.

Some 11 million people a year use price comparison sites to gain information on insurers and other products. The Financial Conduct Authority found in 2014 that such sites were not delivering fair and consistent practices. The Competition and Markets Authority has now said the sites should be using the CARE model; that is, they should be clear, accurate, responsible and easy to use. What can the Government do to ensure that these sites are straightforward and easy to use?

The simple answer is that I will take that matter up with my colleagues at the Treasury who are handling that point, particularly in relation to the FCA. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that I am in a Bill Committee with the exact same Minister and will probably have an opportunity tomorrow—with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey)—to have a discussion about this point.

A Port Talbot shift supervisor was badly advised by a pensions predator preying on him who made him take the wrong choice. “I will never forgive myself”, he said, “because all 20 on my shift followed my lead.” In an otherwise welcome Bill, in the words of Baroness Altmann,

“the Government seems to have bowed to industry pressure and proposes to weaken consumer protection for pension customers. By removing a clause introduced in the House of Lords…more people are at risk of losing their hard-earned savings in scams, frauds and unwise pension withdrawals.”

She is absolutely right. Will the Government think again?

I am grateful to have the opportunity to replay the same debate that we had in the Bill Committee last Thursday. I will give the same answer, which is that, with no disrespect to Baroness Altmann, she is incorrect on this point. The Government are addressing pensions guidance. We have introduced very stringent new laws. We have improved on the point raised by the Work and Pensions Committee, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Alex Burghart), who sits on that Committee, agreed in the Bill Committee last Thursday.