Committee (1st Day) (Continued)
Clause 2: Functions and objectives
8: Clause 2, page 2, line 19, leave out “provide” and insert “ensure provision of”
My Lords, this is a brief amendment and stands on its own, I think primarily to ensure that the next group gets enough focus. We are back to the definition of words, which is obviously going to bedevil us as we go through the Bill. This one is slightly more generic than the others, in the sense that the description we have been given of the task of this new body is that of creating a mixture of direct provision and commissioning. However, sometimes the wording does not seem to match up to that, so the amendment suggests a better form of wording that would leave out “provide” and insert “ensure provision of”. When we look up the dictionary definition of “provide”, we see that it is basically an active verb whose primary meaning is to make available for use or to supply.
As I read it, it is there as an active verb, which means that the body to which it is applied will be doing things—implementing in an active way. Substituting “ensuring provision of” would mean a much greater accent on working with others to make sure that these things happened. The amendment applies to the pensions arrangements referred to in line 19 of page 2. In many cases, the pensions guidance function would be carried out mainly in house, or others would be commissioned to do the work, so it may not be the most appropriate place for the amendment, but we pick up the same idea as we move through the Bill and look at the other aspects of the work of the organisation.
It is a probing amendment at this stage to invite the Minister better to articulate what “provide” means here. We want to know in particular whether commissioning work is envisaged in this limb, whether it involves any direct provision and, if so, what that would be. Can the Minister give some broad breakdown of the balance between those two aspects? I beg to move.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, that the amendment is possibly sitting in the wrong spot, because the various pension bodies being absorbed into this single body have provided guidance directly. It is advice provided through a commissioning, contractual arrangement, which I am sure everyone intends should remain in place. However, the underlying spirit of the point the noble Lord makes and the request for clarification are important.
I rise to speak merely because the Minister may answer that such issues are covered somewhat in Clause 4. I simply wanted to point out that that clause regularly uses “may”, whereas I think the Government’s intention —and that, I suspect, of many others in this Committee —is that this be a “must”. So, the argument that Clause 4 is the answer to the question raised may not exactly work.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for the amendment and for the opportunity to clarify. Amendment 8 would change the wording of the pensions guidance function by replacing “provide” with “ensure provision of”.
I am of the view that the amendment would make little difference to the outcomes that the body will deliver. Pensions guidance will be provided by the body itself or on behalf of the body by its delivery partner organisations, whether or not the requirement is that the body “provide” or “ensure provision of” pensions guidance. It is important that the body be able to design its services in a way that best meets the needs of the public.
It is better to establish clearly the body’s functions in Clause 2 and then set out in another clause which of those functions may be carried out by others. The amendment rather brings the two concepts together in Clause 2 in a way which is less clear.
Taken with Clause 4, as referenced by the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, the wording of the pensions guidance function allows the body either to deliver information and guidance itself or to make arrangements with partners to deliver some, or all, of it. The mix of in-house and delivery partner provision will be for the body to decide. It would be wrong for me or indeed any of us to try to judge at this stage how much of the body’s work will be done via commissioning and how much in house. That may to some extent depend on how much certain advice is sought and what direction and guidance—
I am sorry to interrupt the Minister but am not clear on what she just said. The provision in Clause 4 says that,
“The single financial guidance body may arrange for another person”.
That applies not just to the pensions guidance but to debt advice. My understanding was that the structure of debt advice currently underpinning MAS would be carried over into the Bill. Is this raising the option that the new body would provide debt advice directly? I am slightly unclear on that point. Could she help us with that?
I thank the noble Baroness for her intervention but I read it myself and I do not think it does—as she suggests—create that opportunity for the single financial guidance body to deliver the debt advice function. It says that it,
“may arrange for another person … to carry out any of the following functions on its behalf”.
The SFGB is the delivery partner. On the reference to “may” rather than “must”, from a legal standpoint it is already in the Bill that the guidance body can arrange for another person to carry out any of those functions. Indeed, it is implicit that it will.
I apologise but I have just been corrected in relation to the debt advice function. It is an option but not the plan—if that makes sense. I hope this explains what the wording of the pensions guidance function means in practice. I urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister for her comments. “An option but not the plan” might go down in history as a rather interesting way out of a dilemma. We might return to this issue in the group after next, so I will not spend time on it now. I am afraid my worry is that “provide”, rather than some other wording, could be applied in future in a detrimental way to bodies that feel they have a role to play in this space, perhaps not so much in pensions but in other areas. For the moment, I would like to read carefully and reflect on what the Minister said before we consider how to go forward. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 8 withdrawn.
9: Clause 2, page 2, line 20, after “occupational” insert “, state”
My Lords, in the interests of efficiency, I will move Amendment 9 and speak to Amendment 10.
Amendment 9 adds to the pensions guidance function of the new body matters relating to the state pension. In moving it, I do not seek to interfere or intervene in the role of the Government’s Pension Service. My focus is on the ability of the new body to give holistic guidance in helping members of the public. For many, the state pension will be the most important risk-free element of their income in retirement. Understanding how it and state benefits sit alongside their private savings will be important when considering their options and choices, and then making informed decisions—as will securing entitlements to state pensions, particularly for women where actively claiming credits for caring can be important. Pensions guidance gains from being informed by all of an individual’s benefits and savings. That view will be facilitated if a pensions dashboard is successfully implemented.
Amendment 10 has the effect of extending the pensions guidance function of the new body to provide a single, public good pensions dashboard as a trusted consumer hub. Responsibility for provision in later life is shifting towards the individual. People rely on state, workplace and personal pensions and other savings to varying degrees. There will be multiple channels for them to keep track of and understand. A pensions dashboard would be a digital interface, a viewing space, where an individual can see all the information on their state pension and their different pensions savings pots. They can access their viewing space with their own digital identity.
A pilot dashboard is being developed by 17 providers under the auspices of the Treasury. A successful dashboard could evolve over time to include information such as ISAs and income drawdown—a range of information about an individual’s finances, savings and investments. The fintech industry may develop the basic dashboard to include more tailored personal finance products.
The pensions dashboard can change the way people view their pensions and savings. Get it right and it can improve transparency, support access to pensions information, empower savers and bring pensions into the digital age. But first and foremost it has to be built with consumer protection and safeguards at the heart of design and delivery. That is the first priority. The dashboard will have benefits to the industry and will promote innovation—but that should be the supporting, not leading, consideration.
There will be two important pieces of IT kit within the dashboard. One is a finding function to search across all providers and schemes to identify the savings data to be pulled down on to the dashboard; the other draws down the data on to the dashboard. For individuals, a dashboard means that they can see all their pensions and savings in one place, making it easier to engage and transact. It can be complicated for people to understand how much they have saved for retirement and to plan in good time. Information barriers exist. Small pots end up stranded. People now change jobs far more frequently and could end up with 11 or more small pots over their lifetime—a worryingly growing problem—but taking steps to aggregate them can be difficult and complex for the individual. Providers can deal with consumers with knowledge of their own pension savings, which they can also access with the individual’s consent—a valuable tool in their own activities of selling products and services.
Behind this brief description of the dashboard is a huge governance challenge. For it to be successful, it needs near-universal coverage of millions of people and all the holders of their relevant data. Near-universal coverage raises the governance bar on protecting consumers from bad behaviour by providers, unregulated providers and scammers, when all their pensions and savings data can be identified and drawn down into one place, accessible through a digital identity. Those with a fiduciary duty, such as trustees, will not release their members’ data to the dashboard unless they have confidence in the governance. Furthermore, it is necessary to address providers that are reluctant to put all relevant data on to the dashboard, such as for customers holding higher-charge legacy pension products.
My list is not exhaustive—so what are the key ingredients for a successful dashboard? There should be a single public service dashboard and the new financial guidance body could be allowed to be that dashboard provider. This is a natural starting point. Consumers need a safe place to view their savings and pensions, where they are not going to be aggressively marketed to and are safe from scams and from being lured into making poor decisions. Providing this safe space is a key purpose of my amendment. It could make pensions guidance more efficient and friendly. Individuals would have greater knowledge so it could improve the conversation, with less time spent on working out what people have—colloquially, sorting out the carrier bag—and more time spent on the quality guidance people need.
I am not saying that there should always be only one dashboard. In future, I can see the case for additional well-regulated dashboards. Some providers will want to provide access to a dashboard through their own website. This is a debate I am not pursuing today, but there is a real need to learn to crawl before we can walk and to walk before we can run. Starting with a public good dashboard will engender trust and confidence and put the savers first.
Research by the Money Advice Service for the pension finder dashboard Alpha project recommended that the dashboard could initially be available in one location. In the future, approved financial industry websites and apps could be able to host it. The research showed consumers’ clear preference for the single-destination model for the dashboard and an anticipation or implicit assumption that it would be run by the Government or a government-backed service. Respondents said that they would have a greater level of trust in such a service because of expectations that the Government would not use personal data for commercial gain.
At the heart of the debate on the dashboard is strong and robust governance—and consumer protection for potentially millions of people—around not only the provision of a dashboard but the infrastructure that supports it. There are important issues of identity verification, data matching, pension-finding consent and the need to be policed and overseen. That oversight function needs to be rooted in a public service body, which could be the new guidance body. The industry has done a good job in driving a dashboard forward, but it will soon need to move into a new phase where that is driven forward in a more independent and autonomous way. Industry providers will be partial in their view of the dashboard, which is rational for them, but that would be underpinned by its contribution to their sales of products and services.
My view is not novel. Sweden and Australia both provide their population with access to a clean version of a public dashboard. I urge the Minister to seriously consider the merits of this amendment, which addresses a real and growing need for the Government to give a clear signal on the direction of travel for strong and robust governance in the provision of a dashboard and the infrastructure that supports it. I beg to move.
My Lords, I very much support the amendments moved and spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, and the pressure they create on the Government to come up with some coherent answers to the very significant questions which have been posed. We are great supporters of the dashboard, as is, I suspect, almost everybody in this House who is engaged in pensions, savings and investment issues. However, I also spend quite a bit of time now trying to understand where artificial intelligence is taking us. The first question that is always asked is: who controls the data? Secondly, who controls the best analytics to be able to turn the data into a marketing opportunity?
The data will clearly become dominated very quickly by a limited number of companies. That in itself will become a mechanism that limits options for individuals and makes it extremely difficult for them to compare the options that they could source from a variety of providers. It tends to tie them back to a single, dominant provider. The Government surely have an interest in preventing the development of either those quasi- cartel or monopolistic structures, but early intervention is needed to make that possible. Who controls the dashboard will be an issue of real significance and there is a strong argument that it cannot be one of the commercial players, in whose interests it would always be to manage that dashboard to the advantage of their own proprietary products. I hope that the Minister will engage with this opportunity, because events are taking over in this area and government has a relatively limited scope in which to intervene to shape the framework.
My Lords, briefly, I support my noble friend Lady Drake and the powerful case she has made for the public service dashboard. I will also speak to the proposal that pension guidance functions should include the state pension.
Decisions around receipt of the state pension are not necessarily a straightforward matter. As we know only too well, there has been some confusion over the age at which some—particularly women—reach state pension age and are entitled to access their pension. Reaching state pension age does not of course necessitate giving up employment. Deferring the state pension can generate a higher rate of pension and therefore possibly tax, albeit no longer with a lump sum. But deferral will not earn an income uplift in weeks where certain benefits might be in payment, for example for carer’s allowance. The deferral increase is not inheritable. There are transitional rules for those reaching state pension age before 6 April 2016. As entitlement depends on a person’s national insurance record, paid or credited, there may be decisions about the appropriateness of buying extra years. These are just some of the intricacies surrounding the state pension.
It is accepted that the Pension Service will provide details, including forecasts of entitlement, but should these matters not be considered in the round, particularly with the person’s broader retirement planning? After all, for many people the state pension will constitute their biggest single risk-free income source for the rest of their lives. In their response to the final SFGB consultation, on page 10, the Government stated:
“the government believes people would benefit from access to joined up information and guidance to help them develop the financial capability they need”.
Surely an understanding of what might flow from the state pension system is as important as an understanding of choices around pension pots. Indeed, given the recognition that the service should be directed at those most in need, are they not likely to be those for whom the state pension represents a significant part of their income?
My noble friend Lady Drake made, as ever, a powerful case for the pensions dashboard, and in collecting together details of all of a person’s pension pots it is important that it should include the state pension. To be clear, we do not argue for SFGB to replace the Pension Service but for it to be able to feed its choices into how it might fit together with other pension opportunities.
I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate about the pensions guidance function. I shall begin by focusing my response on the questions around the state pension and shall then move on to the dashboard.
On Amendment 9, the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, and the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, raised a question about information and guidance in relation to the state pension. It is, of course, vital that people have access to information about their state pension. Noble Lords will be aware that the Department for Work and Pensions is responsible for the policy and administration of the state pension. DWP offers a range of information and guidance through a variety of contact channels for people wanting to know about their state pension. The GOV.UK website is a key source of that information and guidance. It includes links which take people to the online services. For those who prefer to access information offline, DWP also provides leaflets, letters and other guidance on the state pension. All these forms of communication contain telephone numbers and the addresses of pension centres.
People seeking information about their state pension age or wanting a forecast of their state pension are able to contact DWP via telephone, textphone or email or, alternatively, they can write if they prefer. DWP also offers a digital service called “Check your State Pension” where customers can check a version of their state pension statement. Customers using this service can ask questions or raise queries by completing an online form. However, as with the current services, it is not appropriate for the body to become involved in specific issues relating to the detail or the handling by DWP of an individual’s state pension entitlement, for example, where a person has not received their state pension. These are matters that only DWP can properly respond to. As it has access to national insurance contribution records, DWP is the right organisation to deal with state pension-related questions, information and guidance. It would be inappropriate to expect pension schemes or the financial services sector to fund guidance on the state pension.
The single financial guidance body will be able to provide general guidance on the state pension in the same way as the existing services do now, for example, as general information on its website or as part of discussions with people. It will also direct people to the correct part of the GOV.UK website or provide the relevant telephone number or leaflet if a state pension query is raised during a face-to-face discussion, call or web chat or online inquiry. We expect the single financial guidance body to look for opportunities for a more seamless customer journey in the future as part of its programme of transformation across all its delivery functions.
I hope that I have clarified, in relation to state pensions, what the single financial guidance body can do and also the extensive service the DWP already provides to the public. Of course one of the key issues is the huge challenge which the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, referred to with reference to dashboards, and the same applies to the state pension in detail. The priority has to be around consumer protection safeguards, as she quite rightly said.
On Amendment 10, I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, has a great knowledge of pensions and also a keen interest in the excellent work done by the Pensions Advisory Service. Pensions and savings decisions are some of the most important a person will make during their lifetime. Pensions dashboards have the potential to unlock a huge amount of information that will help people make the best choices for them. The average person changes employers 11 times during their lifetime. They could have 11 or more private pensions by the time they retire. It therefore makes absolute sense that they should be able easily to view and understand their pension savings. The purpose of a dashboard is to provide a clear, online picture to an individual of all of their pensions savings in one place.
The Government were delighted with the excellent progress that was made by the pension providers that have worked together to make progress in the development of this important tool. Seventeen pension schemes and six technology firms, project managed by the ABI—the Association of British Insurers—successfully developed a working prototype of a dashboard in April this year. This proved that providing pensions information from different schemes in one place is feasible. The prototype indicated that the technology works, and this was a big first step forward in making pensions dashboards a reality.
However, it is still early days. For all the reasons that the noble Baronesses, Lady Drake and Lady Kramer, referred to—I would commend both their speeches to those who are actually developing this system—it is a huge and exciting task, but there is a huge governance challenge over who controls the dashboard, and the range of information will be enormous. An issue of course at the forefront of all noble Lords’ minds at the moment is that of cybersecurity, and there will be so much information if we get this right and if it is to be able to provide a holistic service for pensions. It is early days, and a significant amount of work is needed to address the outstanding policy, technological and delivery questions before a consumer-facing dashboard could be rolled out.
I appreciate the purpose of the noble Baroness’s amendment and the careful wording she has chosen. I recognise that there may be a role for the single financial guidance body in this space in the future, not least in encouraging its customers to use these helpful tools. However, as I sense the noble Baroness appreciates, at such an early stage in the development of the policy to support the dashboard it is difficult to determine what will eventually be required to deliver consumer-facing dashboards. This includes what the role of the body might be in hosting a dashboard.
Nevertheless, I believe that the drafting of the pensions guidance function as it stands would be wide enough to cover a number of operational options, including hosting a dashboard, in which case specifying this as part of that function is therefore unnecessary. I make it clear here and now, so that it is clear in Hansard, that this will not require legislation: this legislation would allow for this. To legislate to support a pensions dashboard at such an early stage in the development of the pensions dashboard policy would be risky. We cannot at this stage determine what will eventually be required to deliver consumer-facing dashboards or what the role of the body may be in hosting a dashboard.
One question relates to the issue of trust. Trust is essential, and the Government have been clear today that there would have to be standards on data security and how basic dashboard data are presented and used. Whether it is right to lock down the dashboard to one single entity, as the noble Baroness has suggested, has to be balanced against the range of possible innovation that has the potential to help consumers. The ABI-led industry project is helpfully exploring some of the key issues through a number of work strands: consumer research, industry research, data standards—and I could go on. But the requirement function in terms of verification is, of course, hugely important in all this. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, that protection and safeguards must take priority over and above technological capability.
In light of the explanations I have given, I very much hope the noble Baroness will not press her amendment and feel able to withdraw the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. I hope she will indulge me as there was quite a lot of detail, which I would like to pick up on. I completely accept the point that the single financial guidance body cannot take on the responsibility of the state, as delivered through the Pension Service, in determining what a person’s state pension entitlements are. I was not seeking to transfer authority from one to the other. As the Minister mentioned, two elements of the “seamless journey” are that guidance can be made easier—because of the ability to access or integrate state pension information into the guidance process—and, if the pension dashboard is a success, it unlocks transparency of information quite considerably and transforms how guidance can be performed.
The Bill is silent on the state pension. It would be welcome if there were some clarification—even if it is a sort of future banking—of what the function can embrace, in a way that is acceptable to the Government and the Government’s Pension Service guidance embracing the state pension.
On the dashboard, I was not arguing—and I hoped I had stressed that—that the dashboard had to be a single entity. I was arguing, first, that there must be a public dashboard. It should not be the case that the public are dependent on a commercial provider for use of the dashboard. Secondly, there has to be a pretty clear statement, fairly soon, about some kind of public ownership of the governance and the dashboard. One cannot encourage 20 million people and rising—and every holder of data on an individual—to allow the data to be drawn down, unless these issues are addressed and the public have that level of assurance.
I welcome the Minister’s statement that the legislation allows the financial guidance body to be the provider of a public dashboard. I am assuming—and I invite her to correct me if I am wrong—that Clause 2(3) and (4) would be the source of the legislative authority for the financial guidance body to be a provider of the public dashboard.
Where I disagree with the Minister is on the suggestion that these are early days. These are not early days; people are getting anxious. People wish the dashboard well; I wish it well. If we get it right, it is a transformational, welcome and great piece of progress. If we get it wrong, it is a high-risk consumer issue. I assure the Minister that increasing numbers of people are getting anxious about the governance issue. I have had lots of people—once they have seen my amendment—saying that these issues need to be rehearsed; they need to be brought out in public.
I ask the Minister seriously to think about using the opportunity of the Bill at the very least to write the fullest statement that the Government can give about their attitude to governance, the priority of the consumer interest driving this and the role of public governance, ownership and oversight of the dashboard, because there is real anxiety. People want to know. Sometimes, when one is sitting closely with the people working on the dashboard, one misses the growing anxiety of the wider community—including in the industry—on the issue.
I welcome confirmation that the legislation specifically allows for this, if the Government decide to do so, but there is a real need for the Government not simply to say that these are early days—we accept that these are complicated issues—but to come forward with the fullest possible statement recognising the challenge. People want that.
I very much thank the noble Baroness for her proposal, and I will certainly take her suggestion away. That is a sensible way forward, because the Government have at the forefront of their mind the importance of developing the dashboard with great care. The priority should be the consumer—indeed, this is a consumer-based Bill—and the role of public governance. So I will take her suggestion away and hope to come back with a full statement on Report.
Amendment 9 withdrawn.
Amendment 10 not moved.
11: Clause 2, page 2, line 22, leave out subsection (5) and insert—
“(5) The debt advice function is to commission the provision of sufficient debt advice services, which are to be free at the point of use, to meet the needs of people in financial crisis in England.”
My Lords, we return to the question of provision, helped by the intervention of the Minister to say that the wording of Clause 2(5) is to be read as if it actually said, “the debt advice function is to provide”—with the assumption that it is an option but not a plan to do this by delegation to other bodies. That reflects comments made on an earlier amendment.
I should like to use this group of amendments to probe for responses on the scale, scope and funding, particularly of the debt space, because there are concerns in this area. Amendment 11 is a way to express the ambition across the debt space, and I recommend the wording. It is not open-ended; it sets down a few markers that could be used. It confirms that the debt advice services which are to be provided either directly or through commissioning bodies are to be free at the point of use and are to meet the needs of people in financial crisis in England.
Informed estimates suggest that there are probably about 2 million people in that category in England at the moment, of whom just over 1.25 million get a reasonable level of service from the existing bodies, primarily those which are offering pure advice, which are the Citizens Advice service, the Money Advice Trust and other smaller groups, but also those providing debt management plans, such as StepChange and some of the other smaller groups. There are also those offering solutions, which we talked about on earlier amendments.
The amendment would replace the current subsection. It clears up the question of what “provision” or “provide” mean and allows us to take the question forward on a secure basis, which will be comforting to those who are likely to be affected by the change from MAS to the new body.
Amendment 13 takes forward the point already made: this cannot be a top-down exercise. The single financial guidance body must work together with the existing debt advice services, which have been operating for 20 or 30 years—in the case of Citizens Advice, for much longer—know their stuff, are doing it well and are well respected by the industry, supported by it with cash and are able to operate largely on their own without support from central Government or any other body.
I said at Second Reading and I say again that the proportion of money brought in by the Money Advice Service is very small relative to the total expenditure on debt advice. It has largely come from historic funding made by grant to Citizens Advice when it was a body directly responsible for consumer support more generally under BIS, and now it has been transmuted into support through the levy and paid through MAS. But that is not the totality of what is available in the debt space. The wording suggested in Amendment 13 is on the basis of the consultation and makes a general statement about what it is to be used for—which, again, I think would be helpful in clarifying those who are involved in it.
Amendment 35 would take a bold step towards adequate funding on a sustainable basis, and I hope it recommends itself to the Minister. The intention is that we would set a quantum for the funding to be allocated towards debt advice that would be based on the reasonable needs, based on the numbers that were mentioned earlier. Those would be the scale, scope and funding arrangements, and I would be interested to get the responses to them. I am not saying that there is great disquiet in the sector, but anything of a comforting nature that could be said from the Dispatch Box would be helpful. The minimum would obviously be the status quo ante, but any possibility that efficiency savings or other sources of funding would be made available would be welcome.
Amendment 43 is of a slightly different nature; it probes the downside. Does this arrangement bring into question what might happen should there be a different set of arrangements pertaining—if “provision” were to be read as making active provision from the centre, thereby reducing the scope for activity and therefore for fundraising and support from other sources to the bodies that are currently operating in the debt space? It is a probing amendment, in the sense that in the wording that talks about the single financial guidance body arranging for another person to carry out functions it would delete,
“(b) the debt advice function”,
saying that it cannot be so dismissed. In responding to this, could the Minister explain what is in mind here, without going into particular detail?
The questions being raised are about whether this could perhaps be a provider of services in the public sector—names like Serco come to mind. Is that the direction that we are talking about? Is it to be run as a sort of outpost of the SFGB in a manner that it can direct and control in a more effective way? How many of these bodies are envisaged? Is it going to be one of the existing bodies or will there be a sort of beauty contest between Citizens Advice, StepChange and other bodies that we have mentioned in the past, such as Citizens Against Poverty? Why is it drafted this way? The wording states:
“The single financial guidance body may arrange for another person … to carry out any of the following functions on its behalf”.
That does not seem to me to get the sense of taking the existing arrangements, moving them forward, assessing the gaps and filling them with expert commissioned services, and making sure that the citizens who the Minister said are at the centre of the work of the Bill receive the service they deserve. I beg to move.
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.
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.
Amendment 11 withdrawn.
Amendments 12 and 13 not moved.
14: Clause 2, page 2, line 24, leave out “provide” and insert “ensure provision of”
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 15 and 20 in this group. Amendment 14 is straightforward and clarifies that the money advice function must ensure provision of advice as opposed to providing it—an issue over which we have already ranged. Amendment 15 spells out some of the aspects of the money guidance function. Amendment 20 adds to the strategic function,
“the awareness of scams and frauds relating to financial products”—
again, an issue we have touched upon already.
The Bill is drafted in somewhat general terms and states that the function is to provide information and guidance,
“to enhance people’s understanding and knowledge of financial matters and their ability to manage their own financial affairs”.
When exercising these functions, the SFGB must have regard to its objectives, which include improving,
“the ability of members of the public to make informed financial decisions”,
and focusing on where information, guidance and advice is lacking and is most needed, and where it can be provided in the most cost-effective way. This must be set in the context of the acknowledgment that financial capability—what this is all about—in the UK is low, and many people face challenges when it comes to managing money.
In July 2017, in the response to the consultation, the Government recognised the importance of providing information and guidance by delivering, or signposting to, information on all money matters, including budgeting and saving, insurance, financial advice, bank accounts, protection from fraud and scams, planning for retirement and debt solutions. Therefore, it seems that a broad remit is anticipated, and we would support this. However, there seems to be no good reason why these functions could not be spelled out in more detail in the Bill. Can the Minister say whether any of the matters set out in the amendment are considered outwith the Government’s intended scope of the money advice function and, if so, which?
Financial scams are, unfortunately, many and varied. We have already heard about that matter, so I will be brief. The people who perpetrate them are inventive and merciless. According to the Economic Crime Directorate of the City of London Police, financial crime has cost the UK a staggering £50-plus billion. Techniques encompass scams such as phishing, bogus investment opportunities—particularly for pensioners—intercepting home deposits, freebie scams, fake websites and many more. They can devastate people’s lives, and, as we have heard, can destroy a person’s retirement. Given the so-called pensions freedom, people around the age of 55 are being bombarded with investment opportunities. Citizens Advice calculates that nearly 11 million consumers have received calls about their provision since 2015. Given the hour, I do not propose to go further into that, because we have discussed it already. I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendments 14, 15 and 20, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord McKenzie and Lord Stevenson, all cover issues relating to the body’s money guidance function.
Before addressing each amendment individually, I will first explain what will be covered under this function. Under money guidance, the single financial guidance body will provide information and guidance on all money matters, including budgeting and saving, insurance, financial advice, bank accounts, protection from fraud and scams, planning for retirement, and debt solutions. This information and guidance will be provided to all members of the public mainly through a central website and call centre, but the body will also be able to delegate this function to external providers. It will also fund financial capability initiatives, designed to help people manage their finances better and gain the confidence, skills and knowledge to engage with the financial services sector.
Amendment 14, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, would replace the word “provide” with the phrase “ensure provision of” with regard to the money guidance function. I assure the noble Lord that the existing wording of the Bill would allow the single financial guidance body to provide money guidance itself or to ensure provision of such guidance through commissioning, as is further outlined in Clause 4. I agree with the noble Lord that it is important that the body have the flexibility both to run its own central website—an element overwhelmingly supported by the respondents to the Government’s consultation—and to leave open the possibility in future to deliver money guidance through others.
Amendment 15, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, would add subsections to the money guidance function to include the statutory objectives of the Money Advice Service as originally set out in Section 6A of the Financial Services and Markets Act—the FSMA. In October 2015, the Government launched the public financial guidance consultation to seek views on how publicly funded pensions guidance, debt advice and money guidance—including financial capability—could best be structured to help individuals make effective financial decisions. There was a common view among consultation respondents that MAS’s statutory objectives required it to deliver on too many fronts, making it difficult for it to truly excel in any areas and causing it to duplicate activity being carried out elsewhere.
The Government agreed with the respondents at the time that the statutory objectives of MAS are too broad—for example, the generic objective of promoting awareness of the benefits of financial planning. Respondents suggested that publicly funded money guidance should be targeted at filling gaps, where it is most needed. I assure noble Lords that the Bill as drafted will allow any existing MAS functions and services that meet the body’s objectives to continue.
More specifically, promoting awareness of the benefits of financial planning and the financial advantages and disadvantages relating to the supply of particular kinds of goods or services, and publishing educational materials or carrying out other educational activities, are covered under the money guidance function. The SFGB’s money guidance function also enables it to promote awareness of the benefits and risks of different kinds of financial dealing among members of the public.
Amendment 20, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, would include in the body’s strategic function the awareness of fraud and scams. The Government believe that the body can already do this under its money guidance function and the financial capability element of the strategic function, and that it is not necessary to specify this further.
The Bill’s functions were drafted to provide a framework so that the body has clear parameters but also the ability to prioritise. MAS’s objectives were wide ranging but specified in a way that meant it had to deliver against them all with equal weighting.
However, we consider that giving the new body a specific requirement to advocate for a particular issue is unnecessary and could have unintended consequences. There are several topics that the body may wish to look into as part of its money guidance function, and specifying just one in legislation could risk limiting its ability to look widely at the sector and have regard to emerging issues in the future. That is absolutely key. This is a framework, because we have to think about future-proofing. Issues relating to money guidance and the handling of money will arise—issues we have not even contemplated as of today. That is why we are trying to keep this provision as broad as possible.
However, I am very grateful to noble Lords for asking what we mean by this or that, as I am able to clarify what we are seeking to achieve while giving the body sufficient flexibility to do the right thing going forward. For those reasons, I urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I think we are in agreement on where the Government are on this issue. However, I would like to clarify one point. Can she say whether any of the money guidance functions listed in the amendment are now off the table?
Amendment 14 withdrawn.
Amendments 15 and 16 not moved.
16A: Clause 2, page 2, line 32, after “children” insert “, care leavers”
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.
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.
My Lords, given the hour I shall speak briefly to my Amendment 17 in this group. The single financial guidance body is being asked to develop a national strategy to improve financial education. At the moment the Bill specifies only that this needs to be delivered to children and young people. However, we need to educate everyone about finances, not just young people. We are auto-enrolling everyone in the workplace into pension schemes. We know that workers will not have been given any financial education at school, so why are we focusing only on children and young people? I would like to replace the phrase “young people” with the word “adults”. By the way, I accept completely the point that care leavers are extremely important. But as a complement to auto-enrolment, making sure that financial education is delivered, perhaps in the workplace alongside auto-enrolment, seems to be an important potential function of the single financial guidance body.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 18 in this group which is tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Kramer. I agree with everything that has been said so far except perhaps for one thing. If the Government accept the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, we will have a universal obligation as regards financial education. I can see the appeal of that in theory, but in practice I wonder how it would work out. Children and adults constitute the whole of the population, but I think that the intention of the Government in Clause 2(7)(c) is to identify groups where particular emphasis on the provision of financial education is needed. That is probably why they specifically mention “children and young people”. I agree with the approach of putting an emphasis on the groups that most need or will most benefit from financial education.
However, there are other critical target groups in need of special attention, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has identified such a group. That is what our amendment is aimed at. It seeks to extend the group of special targets beyond a couple of age demographics to major financial events in the course of people’s lives. It would extend the group of special targets to those who are about to make major financial commitments. It specifies the obvious ones such as mortgages and pensions, and nowadays vehicle finance plans, but leaves it open to the SFGB to decide what other major financial commitments it may want to include in its overall strategy.
The Bill is drawn a little too narrowly on this issue and would benefit from our proposed changes and those proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. I hope that the Minister will feel able on this last amendment of the first day to break the habit of the day and accept a modest and uncontroversial amendment.
My Lords, we would support a proposition which broadens as widely as possible the provision of financial education, but the issue that arises is how it will be delivered. I say to the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, who was the leading voice on the committee in favour of financial education and led the charge on it, that if he is around September he will see that we have tabled a couple of amendments which deal specifically with two of the recommendations in the report about making it part of the curriculum in the primary sector, because we are behind the devolved Administrations in that regard. Latching on to the Ofsted framework is a means of getting some leverage, but, even with that, we know that it will be a challenging task. However, it is hugely important.
The data show that by getting to young people at school you can embed those ideas early, and they stick. Of course, a framework is there within which it can be delivered. Notwithstanding that it has been a requirement of the secondary sector for a number of years, as the noble Viscount said, we know of its patchy delivery—and there are clearly funding issues. I have pre-empted a little the amendment which we will come back to in September. We will perhaps pick up this important issue again then. Certainly, making sure that such education is available to the most vulnerable is important, and we support it.
My Lords, Amendments 16A, 17, and 18, tabled respectively by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, my noble friend Lady Altmann, the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, and the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, would alter the strategic function on matters relating to financial education. However, I thank all of them for highlighting the important issue of financial education. While I appreciate the points that they make, the amendments as drafted simply do not work and are not appropriate.
Financial education is a specific area under the body’s strategic function targeted specifically at children and people of a young age to ensure that they are supported at an early stage on how to manage their finances—for example, by learning the benefits of budgeting and saving. I entirely agree with what the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, said in this regard. It is crucial to “capture them young”, as I think the expression goes. Perhaps it would be more useful if I set out more fully what is covered by the body’s strategic function and the financial education element within that.
Through its strategic function, the single financial guidance body will bring together interested partners in the financial services industry, the public and voluntary sectors, and the devolved Administrations with the aim of improving the ability of members of the public to manage their finances. To deliver that, the body will support and co-ordinate a strategy. The premise of the strategy is that one organisation working independently will have little chance of greatly impacting financial capability, but many working together will—a point referenced by the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey. It is question of delivery. One body cannot deliver to all; it simply would not be practical for that one body to be in charge of every stage in life. The strategy should therefore be seen as a collective effort by multiple parties. The role of the new body will be to drive the process forward and oversee implementation.
More specifically, financial education is a subsection of that effort under Clause 2(7)(c). The SFGB will have a co-ordinating role to match funders and providers of financial education projects and initiatives aimed at children, and will ensure that they are targeted where evidence has shown them to be more effective. This falls within the wider strategic financial capability work of the body and should form part of a national strategy to enhance people’s financial capability. The Money Advice Service has been undertaking that role, which is one of the aspects that respondents to the Government’s consultations overwhelmingly agreed the new body should continue working on.
Amendment 16A would alter this function so that a strategy for the provision of financial education was extended to care leavers. I thank the noble Earl for raising this important issue. The Money Advice Service in its financial capability strategy recognises that more needs to be done to address care leavers’ financial needs and skills for independent living. The Government agree, and we expect the new body to consider further initiatives to support care leavers, but also other young people from marginalised backgrounds—for example, those leaving youth detention or with learning difficulties. The Government believe all these segments of the population are already covered in this section under the provision for young people. Specifying a provision for care leavers would create a specific requirement for the body and remove its discretion to target those most in need.
Amendment 17 would alter the wording of the Bill so that the strategy for the provision of financial education extended not to children and young people but to children and adults. Amendment 18 would make provision specifically for adults contemplating difficult financial decisions, such as mortgages, pensions and vehicle finance plans. As my noble friend Lady Altmann stressed, it is important that adults are informed and educated throughout their lives about how to manage their money well and avoid falling into problem debt. However, this is the role of the SFGB as a whole, as it delivers money and pensions guidance and debt advice. Also, the strategic function under Clause 2(7)(a) already gives the body a specific responsibility to work to improve the financial capability of adult members of the public, including in relation to the areas highlighted in the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, and the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey.
We believe that it is unwise to give the new body a requirement to advise the Secretary of State on explicit issues, as worthy as those issues are. There are several topics that the body may wish to look into as part of its strategic function. Choosing a few could risk limiting the body’s ability to look widely at the sector and have regard to emerging issues in future.
I want to make further reference to what the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, said this evening. I entirely support much of what he said on teaching basic skills in managing finances. I am aware that the Lords Select Committee on Financial Exclusion raised the primary school curriculum in its recent report on financial inclusion. The Government will address the committee’s recommendations on this issue when they publish their response in due course. I just add that the first recommendation made in that report proposed that we should have a Minister for financial exclusion. We preferred to refer to “inclusion”, and my honourable friend Guy Opperman MP is the first Minister for Pensions and Financial Inclusion. I have already been in discussions with him about how we can work with the Minister for Education in another place to take forward some of the recommendations in the report and discuss in further detail the concerns raised in it, particularly about primary school education. For those reasons, I hope noble Lords will accept that the amendments are not necessary. I urge the noble Earl to withdraw the amendment.
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.
17: Clause 2, page 2, line 32, leave out “young people” and insert “adults”
I thank my noble friend for her response. I stress that it is really important for us to overcome the idea that education is something that happens only when you are young. Education should be happening throughout life and, if this body is not going to co-ordinate the development of a national strategy for financial education not just for people who are young, perhaps my noble friend could give some thought to how we will develop such a national strategy.
Amendment 17 not moved.
Amendment 18 not moved.
House adjourned at 10.17 pm.