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Insurance: Payment Protection Insurance

Volume 735: debated on Monday 5 March 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to ensure consumers are getting good value for money from companies that are marketing services helping people make payment protection insurance mis-selling claims.

My Lords, the Government require claims management companies to follow conduct rules focusing on protecting the consumer. The Ministry of Justice’s Claims Management Regulation Unit will take action against companies which fail to comply.

Does the noble Lord agree that the mis-selling of payment protection insurance was a scandal? Does he agree that making a claim is relatively straightforward, that you do not need to use a claims management company, and that losing 30 per cent of your compensation in fees and charges is not very good value for money? Would he agree to meet me and consumers’ representatives to discuss how consumers can keep more of their money?

My Lords, I would be very happy to have such a meeting, and I congratulate the noble Lord on his campaign in this area. It is an area where consumers have not been best served and where they are not aware that there are many simpler ways of reclaiming this money than paying exorbitant fees to claims management companies. I hope that as a department we are on the case but I would gladly meet the noble Lord and colleagues to discuss it further.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of an issue raised by the Building Societies Association—that these claims companies are pursuing claims supposedly on behalf of individuals but against lenders where the product in question was never sold? By the time a lender and the ombudsman have spent money proving no sale, future borrowers are out of pocket because of the cost created. Can something be done to stem this growing practice?

My noble friend is right to draw attention to another example of abuse. Where such abuses are brought to our attention, we remove companies from the list of those which are able to offer these services. Again, I emphasise that regulations and protection for the consumer are in place. We possibly need greater awareness among consumers of their rights, and I shall certainly take that back.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a director of the Financial Ombudsman Service. My best guess is that the banks have provisioned about £9 billion for PPI. If about 80 per cent of cases going to the ombudsman come through claims management companies, then at least £2 billion is going to CMCs rather than going back to customers. Given that, will the Minister give the House an undertaking that his department will act to require CMCs to declare their fees up front and to tell customers that they are not required to use them as they could make a claim themselves for free?

My Lords, those are exactly the regulations that pertain to these companies. However, because of the pressure of sales, there is no doubt that people are being misled in that way. We shall need to take further action because, as the noble Baroness rightly says, one does not need a pocket calculator to realise that these companies operate in an area where they can make a lot of money, which should quite properly go into consumers’ pockets.

My Lords, why is the Minister of Justice concerned with this? If there is concern, why is not the Lord Chancellor asked to deal with this? What is the difference between the one and the other now that we do not have the old-style Lord Chancellor or Minister of Justice?

I was halfway to agreeing with the noble Lord because one of the first things I asked was: why is the Ministry of Justice regulating claims management companies? I was told—I am looking at the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, although I do not think he was in post at the time—that the Office of Fair Trading was reluctant to take on this responsibility. The noble Lord nods his head. I still wonder whether there would not be a better home for this matter, but while we have it, noble Lords should know that our motto is “We are from the Ministry of Justice; we are here to help”. We certainly intend to ensure that, while we have a responsibility to regulate this industry, we will regulate it with all due diligence.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there appears to be a scam on the go? I have had about 12 phone calls, in which I have always been addressed by name, saying that they will help me to get money back under the payment protection scheme. Is the Minister saying that this is a vicious and misleading practice by companies or that we are in danger of a scam? If so, should not the public be warned one way or another?

I would take the name of the company and report it to the Ministry of Justice. Cold-calling in person is banned; high-pressure telephone calling is banned; and unsolicited text messaging is banned. I am sure that noble Lords to whom this has happened for the first time have already realised that this is an industry where a lot of consumers’ money is at stake because of the success in making the banks take responsibility for this mis-selling. As the noble Baroness said, there is something like £8 billion or £9 billion that could be returned to consumers and, to put it no higher, there are some very dodgy practices at work with people trying to get their hands on that money. I can assure noble Lords that the Ministry of Justice will accept its responsibility in this area. We are talking to the Financial Ombudsman Service as well and we shall pursue this matter in the best interests of consumers.

My Lords, would it not be appropriate for the head of the Financial Services Authority to warn consumers on this front? The whole point of having a financial regulator is to protect the public and, in the past, the head of the FSA regularly gave warnings to the public.

My Lords, the responsibility for this is with the Financial Ombudsman Service. The financial ombudsman has identified this and put out warnings. Both the Financial Ombudsman Service and the MoJ on their websites give clear directions to consumers about how they can make claims in this area without using these companies and at no cost to themselves.