Report (1st Day)
Clause 2: Functions and objectives
1: Clause 2, page 2, line 12, at end insert—
“( ) the consumer protection function;”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 1 I will also speak—eventually—to Amendments 2 and 7. They form a linked package of consumer protection measures enabled by, and consequential upon, Amendment 1. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, for adding their names to the amendments and for their support for them. Amendment 1 simply adds consumer protection to the functions of the SFGB. The notion of consumer protection is implicit in the other functions set out in the Bill, but the amendment gives it statutory life. In doing this, it allows a broader definition of the reach of the SFGB. It widens its remit to something closer to the real-world situation for consumers and enables it to deal more comprehensively with the dangers and risks that consumers face.
Pensions guidance, debt advice and money guidance are all aimed at doing this, of course, but there are related areas where intervention would be of direct benefit: cold calling is one. One effect of Amendment 1 would be to allow cold calling to be dealt with in the Bill. We have discussed cold calling many times during the passage of the Bill and on many other occasions in this House. On several occasions I have described it as an omnipresent menace—and no one has disagreed. It is clear that there is a firm and widely held dislike of and dissatisfaction with cold calling, extending well beyond this Chamber. It is not only a thoroughgoing social nuisance; it is often a threat, directly and comprehensively, to consumers’ financial well-being. It is often an invitation—or more exactly, an inducement —to criminal activity.
The figures are remarkable and very alarming. There are now 2.6 million cold calls every month; that number has increased by 180% in the last 10 months. I noted that the Minister, when presented with these figures—and even larger ones—at an earlier stage in the debate, prayed in aid the ICO and the FCA. I am afraid that whatever the ICO is doing, and whatever the noble Baroness hopes the FCA might do at some unspecified time in the future, the problem is not only terrifyingly large but continuing to grow very rapidly.
On the fourth day of Committee, the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, made a very telling intervention; I am sure he will not mind me repeating it here. He quoted a Which? report from November 2016, which he described as detailing,
“the full horror of nuisance calls in the UK”.—[Official Report, 13/9/17; col. 2491.]
The report found that in 17 of the 18 cities surveyed, more than a third of all private phone calls were nuisance calls, and four in 10 people in the Scottish sample were intimidated by these calls. It is not easy to intimidate people in Scotland. In the same debate, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, pointed out and emphasised the fact that many old people are particularly vulnerable to cold callers.
Then there is the successor to the whiplash scandal: the absolutely huge, and rising, number of claims for alleged holiday sickness. In July and August 2016 alone, one operator took 750,000 British, 800,000 German and 375,000 Scandinavian customers to Spain. The Scandinavians lodged 39 claims; the Germans lodged 114; but the British lodged around 4,000 claims for holiday sickness—essentially, food poisoning. That kind of thing not only costs our travel industry a huge amount and raises prices for everyone but directly encourages criminal acts on a large scale. As the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said in Committee, this a huge industry which,
“encourages fraud and leads people to do things which they would never have done without this pressure”.—[Official Report, 13/9/17; col. 2489.]
We already ban cold calling for mortgages. The Government have promised to ban cold calling for pensions eventually. We can ban cold calling for claims management companies later in the Bill via Amendment 42, but we should also be able to ban cold calling, if we choose, for debt management companies. Last week, the FCA announced its second inquiry into the rather murky debt management area.
In fact, wherever cold calling causes consumer detriment, or intolerable nuisance, we should be able to ban it. Ministers have occasionally appeared sympathetic to such bans as the Bill has progressed. Indeed, sometimes the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, has been quite passionate in her support for the principle. However, in every case, no matter their sympathy, they have told the House that there is a problem of scope. They have also talked rather vaguely about waiting for the next suitable legislative bus to come along, without so far giving any clue as to when that may be.
Amendment 2 is consequential. It is enabled by Amendment 1 and deals directly with cold calling. It requires the SFGB to make and publish an annual assessment of any consumer detriment. If the SFGB concludes that there are products and services where a ban on cold calling would be conducive to the exercise of its functions, including consumer protection, it must advise the Secretary of State to institute such bans. Since cold callers may be outside the jurisdiction, or revenants who go out of business to avoid penalties and then set up again, Amendment 2 also breaks the revenue chain for such people.
The advice from the SFGB to the Secretary of State must include a ban on the commercial use of data obtained by cold calling. In other words, if you cold-call illegally, we will probably catch you, and in any case you will not be able to sell or use any data collected illegally. New subsection (3C) proposed by the amendment would give the Secretary of State the power to make such bans. The result of all this is that it would no longer be necessary to wait for the legislative vehicle to come along to address the problem of cold calling. Amendment 2 provides all that is necessary. Using it, the Secretary of State could ban cold calling for pensions, for CMCs, for DMCs and for any other activity the SFGB considered warranted a ban. No further primary legislation would be needed.
We have grappled with the problem of cold calling for a very long time. While we have been grappling, the problem has grown hugely in size, as has its potential to do real damage. Since banning cold calling for mortgages we have not really made any progress, but technology has made enormous progress. It has made truly massive-scale cold calling not only possible but a reality in our society. I believe that there is a widespread conviction in Parliament and in the country that cold calling in general is an unacceptable and omnipresent social menace. There is a widespread and entirely justified belief that cold calling can and does have dangerous and damaging consequences, especially for the vulnerable. I believe that there is general agreement that, when it comes to whiplash and holiday sickness, cold calling draws otherwise law-abiding people into committing fraud. It is time to be able to call a halt to all this, which is what Amendments 1 and 2 would do.
Amendment 7 builds on this and continues the theme of consumer protection. As things stand, the SFGB will have no powers of enforcement, as its name suggests. It will not be able to deal directly with what it may see, or knows its clients see, as approaches that amount to malpractice, misrepresentation or harassment —nor with what it may see, or knows its clients see, as dishonest, unfair or unprofessional conduct by those supplying relevant financial services. This misses an opportunity and may allow consumer detriment to persist. Amendment 7 would address this. It acts as a part of carrying out the consumer protection function in Amendment 1, but it is not an attempt to enlarge the competence of the SFGB or to give it redress powers. It is an attempt to make use of the information that the SFGB acquires in the normal course of its work.
The amendment would simply require the SFGB to pass on to the FCA casework from consumers in two circumstances. The first is where the SFGB suspects inappropriate, misleading or harassing approaches for debt advice, debt management, pensions access and claims management. We know that such approaches exist. The second circumstance is where the SFGB suspects dishonest, unfair or unprofessional conduct by the suppliers of financial services within the SFGB’s ambit. We know that such conduct exists. It would be wrong to let information about such wrongdoing have no follow-up and no consequences.
That is not to say that the SFGB’s predecessor organisations have not passed on such suspicions to the FCA and perhaps to other regulators, but it is to say that the SFGB should have in statute an obligation to do so as part of its consumer protection function. The FCA is the obvious place for lodging such suspicions of wrongdoing. It is the regulator that is best equipped, best resourced and most experienced in dealing with these issues. That is simply what the amendment does; it establishes a statutory obligation for the SFGB to pass on to the FCA casework where it has suspicions of wrongdoing both in approaches to consumers and in subsequent service delivery. We know that both exist and that both are damaging to consumers. The amendment would help reduce that damage and help protect consumers.
Amendments 1, 2 and 7 are a package, all linked directly to the thread of consumer protection. I hope that the Government will see them that way and see their merits. I beg to move.
My Lords, my name was added to the three amendments. I declare my interests as set out in the register of the House, particularly in respect of the non-life insurance industry. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, for his drafting skills—I shall make one or two points in a moment about the drafting, which I think is particularly elegant.
The dataset of 9 million telephone calls to UK cities to which the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, referred had one other gem within it: 42% of those 9 million calls were nuisance calls. That dataset was gathered over three years, so it is fairly robust and it gives the House yet another sense of how inherent this problem is in our society. We stand here today with the opportunity to do something about that.
Keith Brown MSP, the relevant Minister at Holyrood, said when the report originally came out—it is a very good quote—that:
“These calls are a serious problem that can cause both emotional and financial harm, particularly to some of our most vulnerable citizens”.
Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, pointed out, Citizens Advice Scotland, in data mining the same 9 million calls, said that four in 10 Scots had felt intimidated. That is a form of mental harm. In our society, if I do or threaten to do physical harm to people, we have protected our citizens under Section 47 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861—he says, looking at a noble and learned Lord—but we have been less good at protecting them from mental harm. This is one of the ways in which we can begin to redress that balance.
These are subtle amendments because they seek to empower Ministers to go along that path by way of a double trigger. The first trigger is for the SFGB to state that there is a problem worth addressing and to make a report. The second trigger is that the Secretary of State concerned can then decide, yes or no, whether to make an order. The double trigger is particularly subtle because it means the problem will be considered in a complete way. Given that, ultimately, the order will have to come here, we can be assured that there will be plenty of debate.
This mechanism, which will enable the apparatus of government to protect people, will strengthen the legislation. I can see no down side but a strong upside, given that Citizens Advice Scotland particularly noted that these nuisance calls weigh on the most vulnerable in our society.
I was on the Financial Exclusion Committee. When we talk about targeting the vulnerable, it is not a matter of someone taking all the numbers or addresses out of a book; it is done scientifically. These people look at the vulnerable and consider when they will be vulnerable and how they will get at them.
The amendment includes digital. We were given evidence that single, older and vulnerable people were especially targeted digitally in the middle of the night. So if they are not sleeping well and switch on their computer, what comes up? We should not think that this is just blanket coverage and some of these people picked it up. The high numbers we have been given are targeted numbers and therefore the response rate, sadly, is very high. These are the people we are trying to protect.
We would like to reduce the number of cold calls that people receive purely by chance and do not listen to, but far too high a proportion of these cold calls are listened to because they are targeted on vulnerable individuals in our society.
My Lords, I join this debate relatively late and I hope the House will forgive my intervention. I speak from the position of having been a Minister in the Ministry of Justice. One of my tasks was to try to do something about cold calling and the frustrations and distress it can cause. The noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, was right to identify whiplash injuries and, more recently, the problem with holiday sickness. It is a scandal and one is acutely conscious that the vulnerable should be protected from this offensive practice.
My question to the Minister about the amendment is this: is this really the right body for this particular function? I note that the drafting by the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, the skill of which I admire, tacitly acknowledges this by giving the body a consumer protection function which seems, on the face of it, rather beyond its original remit; albeit it includes a consumer protection function, I accept. Then there are the various stages which are included in Amendment 2 and the riders in Amendment 7. This is quite a cumbersome method of achieving what I think all the House will agree is a satisfactory aim, which is to prevent cold calling.
I understand that the Government are committed to doing something about cold calling. Various attempts have been made before and I acknowledge that they have not been as successful as they should have been, but this does not seem to be the obvious fit for such an initiative. Can the Minister satisfy me and the House that the Government intend to bring forward appropriate legislation if they believe, as I suspect they may, that this is not the right vehicle for that process?
My Lords, I understand the motives of the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, and other noble Lords in seeking to introduce a consumer protection function to the Bill. However, I believe that it places too broad and onerous a responsibility on the single financial guidance body. If noble Lords look at the functions already included in the Bill, the first three are specific. The fourth, the strategic function, seeks to improve the financial capability of members of the public by supporting the provision of financial education to children and young people—although I think that should perhaps be widened. I believe that the strategic function enables consumers to protect themselves better than they would be able to do without it.
Proposed new subsection (3E) would define cold calling as,
“unsolicited real-time direct approaches to members of the public carried out by whatever means, digital or otherwise”.
This is too all-encompassing. I would be delighted if cold calling by direct telephone and text were banned, but I am not sure that banning all unsolicited approaches is a good idea. If all unsolicited approaches were made illegal, including those by letter or email, how would a business market its services to new potential customers? Would such a draconian measure not result in severe restriction of choice for consumers? How would they know what products and services were available in the marketplace?
I suspect that the 2.6 million nuisance calls made every week—or 9 million a month; I am not sure what the figure referred to in the debate was—is a serious underestimation. What do the Government intend to do to protect the consumer from unsolicited telephone and text approaches?
My Lords, perhaps I can be helpful on a couple of the points just raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard. These amendments ban solicitations in real time, as he will have noticed. That obviously excludes letters. It means that you can send information through the post; no one would wish to prohibit proper kinds of marketing. It is the nuisance and intrusion and the element of pressure that comes from that real-time activity that is the pernicious side of solicitation. That, essentially, is cold calling and is exactly what this is intended to deal with.
The noble Viscount suggested that financial education and capability are the way to go; indeed, many in the Government feel that that is the route to deal with cold calling, so that people know to hang up. However, the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, was very clear in illustrating that, while we all get cold calls, we are merely the tip of an iceberg. For those who pursue this, the real focus is on people who are absolutely the most vulnerable. Being realistic, financial education and capability, even on the most extraordinary scale, would be very unlikely to provide adequate protection to that group of people who are now constantly being abused.
On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, if this body is not associated with consumer protection, quite frankly I wonder what this body is for. That is the underlying premise that sits behind both the predecessor groups that are now being put into the single financial guidance and advice body. It is essential to bring this on to the face of the Bill in a very clear way, as it is the underlying motivation and characterisation of this body, and certainly it is a responsibility.
The noble Lord, Lord Faulks, also suggested that the Government do intend to move in this area. We have been hearing that for an incredibly long period of time and, with constant pressure, perhaps one day the Government will move. The problem is that we need protection now. We need protection in the near term because, as my noble friend Lord Sharkey, the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and others have illustrated, this has grown in such scale and momentum that there are daily victims. Every day that we wait there are more victims. Since it is completely unnecessary to wait because the language in this Bill serves the purpose, then in a sense it would be extraordinary to say we will sit back and wait 18 months or two years or whatever else, allowing people to be abused. We can bring a stop to it now in a very simple and straightforward way.
If I understand the Government correctly, they are willing to look at certain targeted areas in which to stop cold calling but not to provide a stop to cold calling in each area where there is clear detriment, which is what the amendment allows through use of this new single body to identify and communicate that detriment. These organisations are so slick and quick they can move from one topic to another very rapidly—you close one door and another door gets opened. For example, we stopped cold calling on mortgages. That is an excellent example that tells you we can do it. It is straightforward. The dimensions are understood. The complexities are well-considered and we have plenty of track record to look back at to make sure that it is done well. We have all of that in place. However when cold calling on mortgages was banned, it shifted on to the next issue—currently, it is pensions, claims management and holiday sickness. Everybody can be absolutely sure there will be something new, provided loopholes are left, by simply attacking one issue here and one issue there. That is the beauty of this particular amendment: it gives us the power to deal with this whole industry, the same people and the same players.
I shall make one last remark and then sit down. I want particularly to congratulate the four noble Lords whose names are on this amendment, all of whom have been working so hard in this area. Three of them are here today, able to speak for themselves, but one of them cannot. The noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, as we know, has been a real mover and shaker on these issues, not just over cold calling for pensions—pensions are her area of real expertise and we have heard her on that—but we have also heard her in this House speaking around the much broader issue as well, which is why she has put her name to the amendment. She had a speaking engagement at lunchtime in the Midlands which she felt she could not cancel. She has not eaten lunch but run to the train station. She is on the train which pulls in to the station at 4.30 and had been greatly hoping there would be a Statement today that would delay this long enough that she could be here to join in with this particular section of the debate. I am sure she will speak in later parts of this Report.
The noble Baroness should not be left out when we recognise that the movers and shakers on this are from every side of the House. This is not a partisan or party-political set of amendments. This is a set of amendments by Members of this House who recognise their responsibility to protect those who are most vulnerable now, before more damage is done, and I hope the Government will see it that way.
Before the noble Baroness sits down, will she clarify one thing? She was critical of my suggestion that the insertion of the consumer protection function is in some way an attempt to expand the scope of the SFGB. She said, quite correctly, that it is part of the SFGB’s function to protect consumers, but surely the purpose of this amendment is to expand the scope of its activity beyond that which is already in the Bill so that it can deal with matters that are beyond what is apparently in other parts of the Bill.
I thought that we could only speak once on Report, but I hope that the House will excuse me if I get to my feet again. Fundamentally, I disagree with the noble Lord. Consumer objectives are merely bringing to the face the underlying discussion and the ethos which sits entirely behind this body and every one of its instructions. If the noble Lord reads all the roles and responsibilities and the debates about those roles and responsibilities, he will understand that this meshes perfectly with these activities. It strengthens its hand in an obvious way, rather than leaving it in a slightly awkward, ambiguous situation.
My Lords, I am full of respect for and sympathy with the amendments and the spirit in which they have been moved. We are facing massive social abuse that is complicated and extremely extensive. I doubt very much whether in the complicated and convoluted society in which we live it is humanly possible to rid us of all of it. I am sure that is beyond us.
The remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, triggered two thoughts in my mind. The first relates to the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and how well that Act has served society. We are still dealing with it day in and day out in the courts, and with the help of judicial interpretation it is as fresh in many respects as it was the day it was passed. In so far as the offence of assault occasioning actually bodily harm—Section 47—is concerned, the noble Lord is absolutely right. There should be a parallel offence that is not confined to an assault and does not concentrate upon a physical consequence. There have been attempts in the past to widen that offence, but they have been rather vague and less than totally successful. It has to be revamped completely so that the concept of assault is not basic to it and it is not confined to bodily harm.
My other point relates to the higher end of the scale with regard to cold calling. At the very bottom of the scale there is the fishing exercise, the hopeful prospect that something might come of what is not of itself a criminal act. At the other end of the scale, there is a very serious criminal act where A says to B “Let us pretend that an accident occurred—we know nothing like that ever took place—and you are the claimant in regard to that matter and that you are prepared to put forward a statement of facts about a fact that you know to be totally false. I will support you, and we will split the profits between us. You should be prepared, of course, to commence an action in the courts”. The moment you do that, you have probably committed a very serious offence. You have attempted to pervert the course of justice. I believe that as a proposition of law, exceptional to the usual law of attempts, every attempt to bring about a perversion of the course of justice is of itself a perversion of the course of justice. It is at that end that we should start concentrating. Very few of these cases are brought to court, and very few of them are successful, but it would be marvellous to be able to make an example of some of the very worst cases, and by such example a very considerable social lesson would be taught.
I would like to ask whether the “direct approaches” referred to in proposed subsection (3E) need to relate to financial matters.
That would fall within the ambit of the consumer protection function of the SFGB.
My Lords, I will be quick, as the House obviously wants to make progress on this. As a former business manager, I can see where all this is going and can anticipate what the Minister is going to say. The position was warmed up rather nicely by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks. He is an honest man, whose opinions always have to be weighed in the balance, but anybody who seriously suggests that there is going to be legislative time in the future for some other vehicle lives on a different political planet.
The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, made an important speech, and I agreed with my noble friend Lady Kramer when she said a lot of colleagues have done a lot of serious work on this. I was first alerted to the extent of the evidence while serving as a colleague of the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, on the Financial Exclusion Committee. There is a sense of rage and anger about this, which has been going on for far too long. The evidence is there, and as an institution we have a chance of changing it. I for one think it is inconceivable that any Minister in the position that the noble Baroness finds herself can convince this House—certainly me—that this is something we can do another day. We will be deep into European withdrawal for the next two years, and the DWP will be lucky if it gets any Bills during that time—I assert that based on my experience over many years. We have to deal with this now, and I support these amendments. I hope they will be pressed to a Division and passed.
My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, for his comprehensive introduction of this important package of amendments, which we support in its entirety. As we have heard, fundamentally it would enable a ban on cold calling across the piece, together with related reporting functions to the FCA on consumer detriment. We should congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, on his drafting, which would enable us to proceed now with a ban. We know the detriment that cold calling can bring, not only by CMCs but in the pensions arena, and the harm that can produce.
A number of noble Lords touched on this. The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, talked about vulnerability in the digital age and how damaging that can be. The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, spoke about the opportunity to do something today to help deal with a process that causes real mental harm. We agree with that. The noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, talked about the scams around holiday sickness and the impact of the advance of technology if we do not get stuck into this sooner rather than later—the need to deal with the “omnipresent social menace”, as he put it. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, on his challenge to the noble Lord, Lord Faulks. If it is not in this piece of legislation, when will it happen?
The FCA recently published its Financial Lives Survey 2017, which identified that in the last 12 months, 23% of adults, or 11.6 million, received an unsolicited approach, although of course that does not mean that they would all have necessarily suffered detriment from that. Banning cold calling is not only an opportunity to deal with a nuisance, it is an effective way of disrupting the business models of the scammers and fraudsters. Perhaps this would be an opportunity to get to those higher-end activities to which the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, referred.
I know the Minister is supportive of a ban on “every type” of call, because she told us so in Committee, but the strenuous efforts of Ministers have apparently failed to deliver on that aspiration. Notwithstanding the asserted complexity that the legislation might entail, we were told that if it was in scope, it would be in the Bill. It seems that it is in scope. That hurdle has been overcome, so what is the problem? We accept that there may be some complexity in drafting, but surely nothing beyond the wit of parliamentary counsel.
We urge the Government to make progress. Every day that goes by without the ban holds the risk that someone somewhere will be defrauded of their savings, their life turned upside down. We may hear from the Government, as we have before, that there are already restrictions on cold calling and unsolicited direct marketing, but this has not prevented consumer detriment continuing. On several occasions during our debates the Minister has told us she has disconnected her landline. If there is such confidence in the current framework, why on earth would that be necessary?
This is a hugely important issue, which is why we have common cause around the Chamber from pretty much all Benches. This is an opportunity to do something now. If we do not do it now, when will it be? I urge the whole House to support the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this important debate with which we begin our Report stage on this important Bill. Amendments 1, 2 and 7, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord McKenzie and Lord Sharkey, my noble friend Lady Altmann and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, would introduce a consumer protection function for the body and a statutory duty in respect of cold calling. I want to say straightaway that we do not believe that Amendments 1, 2 and 7 would depend on each other to work.
Amendments 1 and 7 would set a statutory function for the Financial Conduct Authority to pass on casework from consumers to the FCA on inappropriate, misleading or harassing approaches by financial services providers to consumers, as well as poor behaviour by providers in the areas of activity related to the body. The Government agree with the logic behind this but the Bill already gives the body the power to share information with the FCA under its information-sharing provisions. Specifically, Clause 12 contains a two-way information-sharing gateway between the single financial guidance body and the FCA that allows the disclosure of information, provided it is pursuant to the functions of either organisation. This would include information relating to cold calling on debt advice, debt management and pension access services.
The single financial guidance body will not exist in a vacuum. It will need to work closely with key stakeholders, and Clause 12 is designed to facilitate close working between the body and its sponsor department, the devolved authorities, the Financial Conduct Authority and the body’s delivery partners. The clause allows these key stakeholders to share information with the body and vice versa. The intention is to allow unpublished data, such as performance-related statistics and confidential insights gained into the financial guidance landscape, to be shared. This information may include personal data as long as any disclosure is in accordance with the Data Protection Act. The clause also allows information to be shared regarding suspected dishonest, unfair or unprofessional conduct by those supplying financial services so that the FCA can take appropriate action against the offending firm.
The powers would enable casework to be passed between the body and the FCA. We would expect that, subject to provisions in Clause 12 and the Data Protection Act, the body would share this with the FCA if that were the right thing to do for the individual. The Bill does not require the body to supply information of this kind to the FCA because there will often be circumstances in which it would be more beneficial for the customer to be signposted elsewhere—for example, to the Pensions Ombudsman Service or the Financial Ombudsman Service. As such, it is best for the body and the FCA to work out how this handover could take place using the powers in Clause 12.
To illustrate, let me give an example of what a consumer’s journey looks like today when impacted by fraud or scams, and what we see as the new body’s role to support the consumer. Where the body believes there has been wrongdoing, we would expect it to contact the FCA or other appropriate authorities. If an individual feels that they have been subject to inappropriate approaches or misconduct by an authorised firm, we would expect the new body to recommend to the individual that they contact the Financial Ombudsman Service or the Pensions Ombudsman Service, depending on the particular nature of their complaint. If an individual suspects that they have been contacted by an unauthorised firm or individual carrying out an FCA-regulated activity, it is already possible for the new body to transfer the casework to the FCA.
Furthermore, organisations involved with Project Bloom, a multi-agency group dedicated to tackling pension fraud scams—of which the FCA is part—have an agreed customer journey to which we would expect the new body to sign up. Part of this journey is that, if the individual or the body believes that a customer may have been a victim of a scam, the body should encourage them to contact Action Fraud, which is the UK’s national fraud reporting centre. The body would also recommend that customers contact Action Fraud when a customer or the guider suspects that the customer has been a victim of types of fraud other than pension scams. Action Fraud will collect information from the customer about the alleged fraud, and then act as a co-ordinator to cascade the information to the City of London Police or other relevant local police forces to investigate the issue further.
When you report a fraud to Action Fraud, you are given the option for your contact details to be passed on to Victim Support, a national charity that helps those affected by crime. If you take up this option, you will then be contacted by someone from the charity and offered free and confidential emotional support and practical help. Indeed, the Pensions Advisory Service currently encourages those who have been a victim of a pension scam to come back and contact TPAS for support in rebuilding their retirement savings, and offers a bespoke appointment where they discuss rebuilding pension funds and potential next steps. We would expect that the body would perform a similar service.
I hope this illustrates that a blanket obligation to share casework with the FCA would be unnecessary. A requirement for the body to share the casework could lead to adverse consequences; at worst, this could result in the customer being hindered in getting the right help that they need. I hope this reassures noble Lords that there is provision in the Bill for individuals to be channelled to the appropriate services if they have been victims of fraud or scams. It is of paramount importance that the body helps customers in this situation.
Amendment 2 introduces a statutory duty in respect of cold calling, which has been the subject of most noble Lords’ interventions this afternoon. The amendment seeks to do a number of things: to require the new body to publish an annual assessment of consumer detriment as a result of cold calling; to require the body to advise the Secretary of State to institute bans on cold calling if it thinks that would be conducive to its functions; and to give the Secretary of State the power to introduce a ban on cold calling, if recommended by the guidance body. I assure the House that the Government already do work to consider the impact that unsolicited calling has on consumers. Indeed, we have been clear that there is no place for nuisance calls or texts and there are already a number of measures in place to protect consumers from the impacts of such nuisance calls.
As I noted in Committee, the Information Commissioner’s Office enforces restrictions on unsolicited direct marketing. We have already increased the amount that regulators can fine those breaching direct marketing rules. On top of that, we have forced companies to display their number when calling people, and made it easier to prosecute wrongdoers.
As noble Lords will be aware, cold calling is already illegal in certain circumstances, such as where a person has registered with the Telephone Preference Service or has already withdrawn consent. Furthermore, the Bill already provides the possibility for the body to alert other organisations to any issues relating to cold calling. Clause 12 contains a two-way information-sharing gateway between the single financial guidance body and the FCA that allows the disclosure of information to each other, provided it is pursuant to the functions of either. This would include, for example, information relating to cold calling on debt advice, debt management, and pension access services. This information may include personal data, as long as any disclosure was in accordance with the Data Protection Act. The clause also allows information to be shared regarding suspected dishonest, unfair or unprofessional conduct by those supplying financial services, so that the FCA could take appropriate action against the offending firm.
A number of other organisations are also active in this space, including Action Fraud. Action Fraud is the UK’s national fraud reporting centre and provides support against a broad range of scams. The body would be able to recommend that customers contact Action Fraud where they have been a victim of scams. Action Fraud will collect information from the customer about the alleged fraud and then act as a co-ordinator to cascade the information to, for example, the City of London Police or other relevant local police force to investigate the issue further.
The amendment goes further by giving the Secretary of State the power to ban cold calling, if that were recommended by the guidance body. However—this is really important—it would not give the Secretary of State the power to enforce a ban on cold calling. I think we can all agree that to give the Secretary of State a power to ban cold calling but not the power to enforce it would be tantamount to not having a ban at all.
However, I have listened to the views of the House. We know that cold calls continue and understand that more needs to be done truly to eradicate this problem. We have already committed to ban cold calls relating to pensions, and are minded to bring forward similar action in relation to the claims management industry. I have asked officials to consider the evidence for implementing a cold-calling ban in relation to claims management activities, and I am pleased to say that the Government are working through the detail of a ban on cold calling by claims management companies. There are complex issues to work through, including those relating, for example, to EU directives. We would therefore like time to consider this important issue properly, and propose bringing forward a government amendment in the other place to meet the concerns of this House.
As the House is aware, the Government have already announced our intention to ban cold calling in relation to pensions, and I repeat that commitment, which would include banning all unsolicited approaches, including texts and emails. We want to ban pensions cold calling because a private pension is often an individual’s most valuable asset. Scams can cost people their life savings and leave them facing retirement with limited income and little or no opportunity to build their pension savings back up.
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt, and I have listened to the whole debate, but how can a Government bring forward an amendment in the other place unless there is a vehicle sent from this place to allow them to do so? You cannot simply amend on the exchange like that without an amendment from this place.
My Lords, I beg to differ. Despite the noble Lord’s extensive experience in another place, it is entirely possible for us to bring forward an amendment in the Commons to introduce such a ban.
As I was saying, we want to ban pensions cold calling because a private pension plan is often an individual’s most valuable asset. A ban will send a powerful message to consumers to put the phone down. My officials recently met a range of stakeholders to explore the details of the ban and are currently working on developing the details of the policy arrangements.
Pensions cold calling is also a complex area which we want to get right. Indeed, the recent discussion with stakeholders uncovered interesting questions around how to define existing relationships and express requests for information. The Government will continue to finalise these complex policy details and we intend to publish draft legislation for scrutiny in early 2018. Following this, we will legislate at the earliest opportunity. This gives us the opportunity to develop legislation which is more carefully targeted and allows us to make proper provision for enforcement which this current draft does not allow.
The Government have listened and want to work at pace to introduce a targeted response which will strengthen the arrangements already in place. However, the proposed approach in this amendment could delay implementation of any such ban. If this amendment were passed, the Government would first have to wait for the body to be set up. It is not expected to be set up and operational until October 2018. Then, recommendations would have to be made to the Secretary of State. No doubt, this would not be immediate because this body will have a huge amount of work to undertake when it is first set up. So it could be at least another year or two before any consideration could be made, prior to a recommendation being put to the Secretary of State to introduce such a ban. Then the Secretary of State would have to make and lay affirmative regulations.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, said that we need protection now. If Amendment 2 were passed, there would be much more delay than if the Government were to wait.
I think the Minister distinctly said that she was considering a ban being introduced in the Commons on cold calling for claims management but not for pensions. So the timetable she has described becomes rather complicated compared with the alternative for which she has not given a timetable.
I have already made it clear, as we did in Committee, that we intend to bring forward a ban on pension scams. We cannot be entirely accurate on timing because, as the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, made clear, we have to find a legislative opportunity. As I have just said, we will introduce draft legislation early next year and that will go through a process of pre-legislative scrutiny. I hope noble Lords will accept that this is very sensible in order to get it right. Indeed, some years ago, this House introduced the possibility of draft legislative scrutiny in important situations such as this. We do not want to get it wrong.
I also say to the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, that it is not without this planet to expect and hope that there will be opportunities—gaps in the timetable—for legislation to come forward. Given the timetable for setting up the body and for the many things it will have to undertake in its early months, I suspect that passing this amendment would mean a protracted delay in introducing a ban on CMCs. The noble Baroness knows perfectly well that we cannot introduce the ban on pensions cold calling in this Bill because it is out of scope. CMCs are actually in scope.
This amendment is in scope. It allows the banning not only of cold calling, but of a broader range of issues. The point made from the Labour Benches was that the Government always said they would have done it in this Bill had there been any mechanism for it to be in scope. It is now in scope, which is why we are debating it on the Floor today. We are not debating an out-of-scope amendment.
That is why I am making it clear that banning pensions cold calling is out of scope of this Bill, but the CMCs are in scope. I am sorry; this is very confusing for noble Lords. I shall focus on what really matters—namely, whether this amendment would bring forward a ban on cold calling. I must stress that that is not the case; there would be a protracted delay.
To reiterate, the Government agree with the spirit of these amendments and will bring forward legislation in this Bill, in the other place, in relation to cold calling for claims management activities. Along with our pre-stated commitment to ban pensions cold calling, I hope that reassures the House.
My noble friend Lord Faulks asked whether the SFGB is the right body to handle cold calling. I stress that I do not believe this is the right duty to place upon this body. It should be the subject of primary legislation. However, the Government intend to bring forward the appropriate legislation that will work in practice. That is the important thing here. My noble friend Lord Trenchard questioned whether this amendment was right and said that we needed to take care to avoid unintended consequences with a complete outright ban that could possibly work to the detriment of the consumer.
I shall detain noble Lords no longer. I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, she has given a commitment to legislate, or move an amendment, in another place to cover something like 90% of what is required by this amendment. Since when, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, questioned the ability of the Government so to do. Surely to goodness, this Bill started in this House and has not even touched another place. Therefore, surely to goodness the Government can do what they like.
I am very grateful to my noble friend for clarifying that point.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I am particularly grateful to the Minister for her close engagement with the matters in these amendments and for her willingness to discuss the issues involved both inside and outside the Chamber. However, I am afraid that the Minister’s objections to Amendment 1 did not have much conviction or force at all, not even when supported by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks. The simple fact is that the SFGB should obviously be in the business of consumer protection. Its remit should allow it to consider, for example, the effect on consumers’ financial well-being of cold calling for financial services. That is what Amendment 1 does, thereby allowing the consequential Amendment 2 to tackle financial harm caused by cold calling. I was grateful for the Minister’s proposals to ban cold calling for CMCs via a Commons amendment, which clearly could be done. However, Amendment 42, which is only a week away, would do exactly the same thing. Why do we have to go round to the other place to do what this Bill would do if Amendment 42 were accepted? I look forward to the Government’s support for Amendment 42 as a means of saving time in the Commons.
I was also grateful for the commitment to publish—I think I heard it correctly—draft legislation on a pensions cold-calling ban. I am sorry that the train of the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, is due to arrive in only two minutes. However, I think I heard the Minister say that she would publish this in early 2018, which is government-speak for probably June. But I note that there was no indication at all of the timetable for such a Bill, and I refer the House again to the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Kirkwood when it comes to the probability of such a Bill. I am afraid that I did not feel the objections aimed at Amendment 7, though extremely extensive in length, were at all compelling. They were full of “shoulds”, “expects” and “mays”, when in fact “must” is better, which is what the amendment does.
With these amendments we have an opportunity to increase significantly the financial protection of consumers —particularly vulnerable and financially stretched consumers. We can, with this Bill and these amendments, bring about bans on cold calling—not just for pensions, but also for CMCs and DMCs if there is evidence of consumer detriment, as there clearly is. We have argued about preventing cold calling for a very long time, during which the problem has become significantly worse. These amendments would finally address the problem and would address it for whatever creative cold-calling scam comes next off the cold-calling scam production line. These are simple, effective and linked measures which will reduce nuisance, reduce harm and significantly increase the protection of consumers. I would like to test the opinion of the House.
24 October 2017
Division on Amendment 1
Amendment 1 agreed.View Details
2: Clause 2, page 2, line 18, at end insert—
“(3A) In exercising its functions the single financial guidance body must have regard to the effect of cold-calling on consumer protection and must make and publish an annual assessment of any consumer detriment.(3B) If the single financial guidance body considers that there are products or services where a ban on cold-calling would be conducive to its functions it must advise the Secretary of State to institute bans on such cold-calling and the commercial use of any data obtained by such cold-calling.(3C) On receipt of advice from the single financial guidance body under subsection (3B), the Secretary of State may by regulations made by statutory instrument introduce a ban on cold-calling and the commercial use of any data obtained by such cold-calling as recommended by the single financial guidance body.(3D) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.(3E) For the purposes of this section “cold-calling” refers to unsolicited real-time direct approaches to members of the public carried out by whatever means, digital or otherwise.”
I wish to test the opinion of the House.
24 October 2017
Division on Amendment 2
Amendment 2 agreed.View Details
3: Clause 2, page 2, line 19, after “public,” insert “free and impartial”
My Lords, before turning to Amendment 3, it may be helpful to the House if I were to say now that, in the light of earlier Divisions, the Government will accept Amendment 7 as it is consequential on Amendment 1.
Amendments 3, 5 and 6 address concerns raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, and referred to by other noble Baronesses, including the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins. They provide certainty that the information, guidance and advice services provided by the single financial guidance body and its delivery partners will be impartial and free to members of the public.
As we stated in the Government’s response to the consultation on the single financial guidance body—and as I confirmed in Committee—it has always been the Government’s firm intention that the body’s information, guidance and advice services should be provided free to members of the public. We recognise the concerns that often the people most in need of financial guidance or debt advice are already in financial difficulty. The existing organisations already provide free services and we are clear that this should not be any different when those services transfer to the new body.
In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, made a number of very pertinent points about the importance of the new body being wholly customer-focused and not influenced by commercial interests. She highlighted that, in the case of guidance, the body needed to be trusted to take the customer up to, but not into, the “decide and buy” or “decide and act” moment. She stressed that a commercial comparison website that takes commission is very different from a factual comparison table that provides information based on customer needs.
We agree that guidance from a provider with a vested interest in the decision a customer makes carries a greater risk of being partial. Impartiality—ensuring that the person or organisation giving the information, guidance and advice has no vested interest, whether that be the single financial guidance body itself or its delivery partners—should be central to the new body’s ethos. This amendment provides certainty on these two important matters. It places impartiality at the heart of the body’s culture and ensures that its services will be free to members of the public. For these reasons, I beg to move.
My Lords, I support and very much welcome these government amendments. I thank the Minister for the consideration she has given to the arguments put forward in Committee. These amendments would make the guidance and advice free to the user and impartial. It is very important that it should be free to the user and not vulnerable to ministerial discretion to decide to charge a fee at some later point for three important reasons.
I do not want to prolong the debate, having got the amendments but, just in case there were ever to be reconsideration of the point, I say that if the new body is to be effective in meeting its objectives it needs to be trusted and universally recognised for supporting members of the public and those most in need. To charge for information and guidance would make the relationship transactional, which risks undermining trust and public perception of the purpose and ethos of the service. It also needs to be free to the user if it is to reach the people who need it most. Charging a fee could deter many people on low and moderate incomes. In many instances, getting customers even to seek guidance often needs a pull, and charging just makes that problem more difficult. If the service is not free to the user but subject to a fee, the new body’s priorities and impartiality could be compromised because of potential conflicts over where to put resource from the organisation—towards those most in need or to the services with the greatest potential to raise revenues.
The requirement in the Bill that guidance and advice given must be impartial is very important. The Minister referenced arguments used in Committee that there are so many providers of information and guidance that they nudge or encourage the consumer in directions that are not driven solely by their needs. It will be the fact that the new body is impartial in the advice and guidance it gives that will distinguish it and allow it to build trust and to deliver its statutory objectives. I thank the Minister for bringing these amendments forward.
My Lords, I join in thanking the Minister for bringing these amendments forward. I think she recognises that the three existing bodies to be merged all have a reputation for impartiality. Their services are free and she is making it absolutely clear that those vital elements which she respects and appreciates so much in the existing bodies will carry through into the new body. It seems to me that stating it clearly, rather than leaving it to be read and potentially misconstrued, is exceptionally helpful.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for making the statement she did at the Dispatch Box at the start of this debate. We are very appreciative of the acceptance of Amendment 7, which goes with the spirit of the way we have conducted the discussions over the Dispatch Box and in meetings over the period of the Bill. It has been one of the happiest Bills I have been involved in and I have been involved in some very happy Bills. I extend the thanks to the Bill team for their good supportive work. It has been a very good experience all round. This amendment is another example of that, because Members will recall that in Committee the Government’s line was that—although they absolutely agreed that advice, guidance or information given by the new body or by its contracted other bodies must be free at the point of use—they did not think it necessary to amend the Bill. However, over the time we have been talking about it, it has grown on them that there might be an advantage in doing so, for all the reasons my noble friend Lady Drake gave. Having those words at the heart of its mission statement and affecting all the work it does will make it a much better body, so we are very grateful and we support the amendment.
Amendment 3 agreed.
4: Clause 2, page 2, line 21, at end insert “including by means of provision to the public of a pensions dashboard.”
My Lords, the intent of Amendment 4 is to require that the introduction of a pensions dashboard shall be as a single, public service dashboard overseen and hosted by the single financial guidance body, a safe viewing space where an individual can see all the information on their state and other pensions savings. I welcome the Government’s recent statement that the Department for Work and Pensions is to take ownership of the dashboard project and take it forward to the next phase. Releasing data on individuals’ state pension entitlement to the dashboard is a key criterion for its success. The DWP being now responsible for the database of state pension entitlements and taking ownership of the project is in itself reassuring, because the department could never allow release of this personal state data through the dashboard unless it was completely satisfied with the governance, standards and protection of individuals.
The industry has done a good job in driving the dashboard project forward and the recent report on the project from the ABI asserts,
“that it is possible to build the ‘plumbing’ to connect multiple pension schemes to dashboards and for people to see their pensions in one place … infrastructure can be delivered, and a data standard for sharing information can be agreed … industry can work successfully with FinTech providers to make this happen”.
That is good and it has done good work, but the project now needs to move into a new phase, owned and driven forward by the Government, engaging a wide body of stakeholders, including, importantly, consumer groups. The public need to see clear proof of concept from the perspective of the consumer’s interest and the public good.
Within the dashboard there will be a pension finder service: the engine that sends out messages to search the records of all providers and schemes records to see if there is a match to the customer details. The engine then collects that data to populate the consumer’s front-end viewing space. If introduced, the data of millions of people will be accessible through the dashboard—high standards, tough regulation and sound governance will be required. To be successful, a dashboard requires all providers to release their data, but there are some big and significant questions still to be answered on governance, implementation and consumer protection before the Government can move to compel all providers to provide their data, which the industry is calling for.
There is a major governance challenge to be addressed: the consumer protection of millions of people in both the provision of the dashboard and the infrastructure that supports it. Issues such as identify validation and security, data matching and pension-finding consent need to be overseen and policed.
The ABI report acknowledges,
“the need for strong governance to make clear what obligations, liabilities and controls are in place … to oversee the setup and maintenance”,
of the dashboard. Under what circumstances should individuals’ data be shared with third parties? What will be the requirements around consent and protection? What happens if those parties are not regulated? Certainly, any unregulated party must be excluded from using dashboard data. After all, the consumer will be giving permission for the use of their personal data to search for pension savings, and for the provider or scheme to share that data with the dashboard.
The dashboard, in requiring near-universal coverage, raises the governance bar on protecting consumers from bad behaviour by both regulated and unregulated providers, scammers and consumers’ own vulnerability when all their pensions and savings data can be identified and viewed in one place, accessible through a digital identity. Oversight of that governance must rest with a public body with the right powers to work with regulators and industry to deliver what is required.
The potential scale of the dashboard raises the importance of public control over its implementation and rollout. There will be the constraint of the minimum viable product, but a staged implementation approach to full coverage will reduce the risk to the consumer. I recognise the dashboard is only as useful as the data that populates it, so a pathway to full coverage is needed for its success, but that needs public control.
The Government need to give clarity on the consumer benefits and public policy outcomes that a pension dash- board is expected to deliver. Any decisions on the project must be benchmarked against these desired benefits and outcomes. The dashboard may provide people with the information they need to consider their options but, of itself, it will not enable them to make informed decisions. It is important that support structures exist around the dashboard to avoid people making poor decisions with the information they have accessed.
Public policy on this project has to complement government’s overall strategy to support and protect savers. A dashboard can contribute but does not provide the solution to the problem of the need for better and more informed decisions when people access their savings. It will not be a silver bullet for customer engagement. International experience indicates that more people are likely to use the dashboard if it is part of a wider approach to promoting pensions. Delivering a successful dashboard involves not only the governance and implementation challenges but consideration of the activities and policies that come off the back of that dashboard. The engagement of individuals is important, but the evidence consistently reveals that defaults are the most powerful drivers of behaviour and good outcomes. The use of glide paths and default products is likely to develop even further in future. Greater knowledge of people’s savings portfolios could allow for the design of more fit-for-purpose defaults, but this all needs to be in a world of consumers’ consent and interest being put first.
A dashboard can make pensions guidance more effective as individuals would have greater knowledge which would improve that guidance conversation with less time spent on working out what people have and more on giving the quality guidance that people need. The quality of data and record-keeping across providers is not always good. A person moving jobs may have up to 11 small pension pots, but perhaps only one provider has up-to-date details about them. Government policy needs to be clear on if and how use of the dashboard can measurably reduce the small pots problem and improve the position of savers whose funds are sitting in poor-value legacy products.
All these issues reinforce the case for a non-commercial single public service dashboard that will engender trust and confidence from the public. Consumers need a safe space to view their savings and pensions where they will not be aggressively marketed to and are safe from scams and being lured into poor decisions. Unless people believe the dashboard is a trusted and protected space, they will not use it. Consumer research reveals an anticipation or implicit assumption that the dashboard will be run by a government-backed service which people can trust because of the expectation that the Government would not use personal data for commercial gain. The research evidence in the ABI’s report confirms that consumers want a centrally accessible dashboard that is free from commercial pressures and is sponsored by the Government. There are real risks for the Government if they compel providers and administrators to release data to other than a public service dashboard. The oversight and hosting of a public-good dashboard, its implementation and the responsibility for provisioning and governing the pension-finder service needs to be rooted in a public service body that is not trying to sell products and services. There needs to be a clear demarcation between information and sales.
In Committee, the Minister confirmed that such a public service role, if agreed by the Government, falls within the objectives set for the single financial guidance body in the Bill. The public governing entity would work alongside the regulators, government and industry to ensure that all the necessary controls and protections were in place. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, on such an extraordinarily comprehensive but succinct speech framing the future structure of the kind of pensions dashboard that I think everybody in this House feels consumers deserve. I also congratulate the Government on their willingness now to step forward and take ownership of this process. As the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, said, the two key underlying issues that will be crucial to the public are protection of data—the whole issue of access to data—and quality guidance to enable them to make use of the information that comes to them through that dashboard as they try and structure their future financial circumstances.
I assure the House that although very often we on this side will try to write an amendment that we think is comprehensive and will basically create the legal framework we want the Government to follow, there are times—this is one of them—when we recognise that the need for development and the underlying complexity of the issue mean that the far better route is government ownership of the policy and the project to take it forward. The Minister will know from having listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, and others in the House that we will always be here with scrutiny and with recommendations to the Government, but it will be exciting to see the process that they now put in place to make sure that this goes from merely a possibility enabled by technology to a very real service for consumers in this country.
My Lords, I too congratulate the Government on their decision to host the pensions dashboard and to put in place the necessary measures for the dashboard to be held in one place. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, on her persistence and her excellent description of why it is so important that this measure is implemented in the manner she set out.
The public need a single dashboard. If individual private sector organisations each released their own dashboard, it would be too confusing for the public. One thing that will certainly assist in any dashboard is standardised statements, required perhaps by the FCA and the Pensions Regulator, whereby anyone who receives a statement about what pension they have—what terms it has and so on—has to be given a piece of paper. Sometimes called a pensions passport—although it does not matter what it is called—this will be a standardised, simple statement that tells people in one place what they have and clearly explains the kind of terms that the pension has, its value and any special features. Sadly, too often, the private sector has not been able to achieve that. Very often the statements that people get are almost unintelligible. They are sometimes far too long and use different language for the same type of pension, so that people struggle. I support this amendment and congratulate the Government and the noble Baroness.
My Lords, I too thank the Government for the announcement that the dashboard is to be taken forward and acknowledge the role that has been played by several Members of your Lordships’ House, particularly my noble friend Lady Drake, who with her impeccable logic and powers of persuasion has really led the charge on this. I also acknowledge the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, who has long campaigned on this issue.
We know that the delivery of the dashboard will be a huge challenge, but it is an opportunity for individuals to see all their savings and pensions in one place, including the state pension. As my noble friend Lady Drake said, the key fact is that it is a single, public service dashboard, so that individuals who use it can have confidence that there will not be a conflict of interest between those seeking to use information and data to sell products and those who are genuinely attempting to help people to understand the pension pots that they have. The data shows that over their lifetime people could change their jobs 11 times. I am not sure how current that is, but 11 changes of jobs could mean as many as 11 pension pots. We know the challenges of small pension pots and how difficult it is for people to access those—they forget where they are. It is particularly an issue for women.
Hearing that the dashboard is to be taken forward makes this a good day. There is lots of hard work to do, and there are many governance issues for your Lordships’ House and others to keep an eye on as it gets developed.
My Lords, this amendment, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, is identical to the one tabled on 17 July 2017, which I have to say sounds an awful long time ago and feels it too. It would require the body to provide a pensions dashboard as part of its pensions guidance function. The purpose of pensions dashboards is to provide a clear picture of all an individual’s pension savings in one place, accessible online. Pensions dashboards are potentially an important tool to help people to take control of their retirement planning. With automatic enrolment, more people than ever before are saving into workplace pensions, and we know that the nature of work is changing, with more people taking a number of jobs in their lifetime—the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, has just talked about 11 times possibly becoming an average. The ability of people to view their pension savings in one place could make a real difference in assisting them to plan and save for their retirement, including making better-informed choices on the financial impact on their pension provision of working longer if they choose to do so.
I promised to come back on Report with a full statement on the Government’s position on the dashboard project. The Government are firmly committed to the delivery of pensions dashboards and have restated our commitment, as announced last week at the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association conference in Manchester by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Pensions and Financial Inclusion in another place. It was announced that, to take forward this work, the Department for Work and Pensions will take lead responsibility for the policy within the Government and manage the next phase of the project. Working with industry, consumer organisations and regulators, the department will conduct a feasibility study to examine the complex issues that still need to be addressed, such as those highlighted by noble Lords today, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Drake. We will share an update on this work by spring next year.
The very helpful report published on 12 October by the ABI-led pensions dashboard project sets out many of the key questions to be explored, and we will look at its research findings and recommendations in detail as part of the feasibility work. We are grateful to all those organisations involved in the project so far. The aims of the feasibility study will include the following: exploring in more detail what will be of the most use to individuals to help them plan effectively for their retirement, as consumers’ needs must be at the heart of our approach; the viability and implications of different delivery models; determining a suitable framework of governance for pensions dashboards; ensuring that consumer interests are safeguarded and their personal information is protected—as the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, has said several times today, we are talking about providing a safe space for public good so it is incredibly important to get this right—and thinking through issues of regulation, standards, data security and identity verification; establishing how to ensure the widest possible contribution of data from pension providers, bearing in mind that effectiveness will be linked to how much information individuals can see in one place, while also taking account of the potential impact on industry; determining the indicative costs of potential models and how they might be funded sustainably; and setting out a pathway for delivery with provisional milestones and recommendations around communications and publicity.
I feel it is important to emphasise again that the needs of the consumer will be at the heart of any design. We want to maximise people’s engagement in their pensions, while maintaining their trust. We will ensure that consumers’ interests are properly safeguarded and their information protected. I also emphasise that our intention is to work very closely with industry and other stakeholders —consumer organisations, regulators and others—in order to take this forward.
As I said in Committee, we believe that the current pensions function of the new body is wide enough to cover a number of the delivery options, including hosting a potential future dashboard. Therefore, specifying this in legislation is not necessary or desirable, as we do not want to stifle innovation nor pre-empt the outcome of the feasibility work. To legislate now would be premature, as we still need to do a lot of work to make pensions dashboards a reality. Indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, said, this is a very real challenge and governance issues are critical. We have to have proof of concept before we can deliver.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I am very pleased that I could say what I have already said this evening—so on that basis, given that I was able to set out the proposals to which the Government are committed for taking this work forward, I hope that the noble Baroness will be willing to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her reply. I tabled my amendment for two reasons: the first from conviction, and the second to ensure that I could secure the fullest possible statement from the Government on Report. I recognise that ownership is being transferred to the DWP. I consider that to be very positive, first, because of its remit and experience; and secondly, because it has an alignment of interest over its own database, which is the state database. The Minister has already confirmed that the Bill would not preclude having a public governor of the dashboard in the single financial guidance body if that was the policy decision. In her statement, she has quite clearly said that the Government accept that the dashboard must be of use to individuals; that consumers must be at the heart of the design; that it has to be viable, and that the framework of governance must hold public confidence. The Minister referred to a report being produced in spring next year, and I recognise that there is a lot of work to be done, but I think she can assume that there will certainly be several Members of this House who will be looking to scrutinise what the Government say in the report. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 4 withdrawn.
Amendments 5 and 6
5: Clause 2, page 2, line 22, after “England,” insert “free and impartial”
6: Clause 2, page 2, line 24, after “public,” insert “free and impartial”
Amendments 5 and 6 agreed.
7: Clause 2, page 2, line 27, at end insert—
“( ) The consumer protection function includes the obligation for the single financial guidance body to pass on casework from consumers to the FCA relating to—(a) suspected inappropriate, misleading or harassing approaches with regard to debt advice, debt management, pension access and claims management services; and(b) suspected dishonest, unfair or unprofessional conduct by those supplying financial services relating to the areas of activity of the single financial guidance body.”
Amendment 7 agreed.
8: Clause 2, page 2, line 28, after “support” insert “financial inclusion and to support”
My Lords, I will also speak to Amendment 17. Together, these amendments revisit the issue that we raised in Committee concerning the SFGB’s role in financial inclusion and add as a specific objective of the body contributing,
“to the reduction and elimination of financial exclusion”,
particularly for vulnerable people. Our amendments spring in particular, as will be recognised, from the House of Lords Select Committee report on financial exclusion, which regrettably has still to receive the Government’s response. I would press the Minister on when this might be forthcoming, but can anticipate that the answer will be some variation of “soon”, “in the near future”, “imminently”, or perhaps even “before Christmas”.
The amendments raise two particular issues: where are we as a country on financial inclusion and financial exclusion; and what, if any, should be the role of the SFGB in addressing these challenges? Dealing with the latter first, we argue that it should be included in the strategic function of the new body and that it should have as one of its objectives contributing to the reduction—or elimination, although we accept that that is perhaps overly ambitious at the moment—of financial exclusion, especially for vulnerable persons. We should stress that this does not seek to have the SFGB usurp the role of the FCA or the Treasury in these matters—a point made by the Minister on our original amendments—but to support financial inclusion and help reduce financial exclusion.
As defined by the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Young, financial inclusion is about individuals and businesses having access to useful and affordable financial products and services that meet their needs. If the single financial guidance body does not have a role in addressing these matters through its money guidance function or improving the financial capability of members of the public, then what is its purpose? Will the Government be clear on this issue and say precisely what role they believe the single body should play in promoting financial inclusion and combatting financial exclusion? What is the Government’s view on that?
The need for a strategy to improve financial inclusion in the UK was a key recommendation of the Select Committee. We have already acknowledged the importance of appointing a Minister for financial inclusion and the need to engage across government to lead, co-ordinate and monitor a strategy. We accept that leadership on this might reside primarily outside the SFGB, but to suggest that it does not have a role seems perverse. If financial inclusion is about access to financial services, capacity to manage financial transactions and avoiding problem debt, then financial exclusion would clearly cover circumstances when this is not the case. That more should be done to advance financial inclusion can hardly be in doubt. Promoting financial inclusion was a key recommendation of the Financial Inclusion Taskforce, whose mission was to increase access to banking, improve access to affordable credit, savings and insurance, and improve access to appropriate money advice. It undertook monitoring of financial inclusion initiatives as well as regular research. Unfortunately, the taskforce fell by the wayside when abolished under the coalition Government and thus left a gap. We hope that that gap can be filled with the help of the single financial guidance body.
There are a raft of statistics that identify the levels of financial exclusion in the UK, those at risk of being financially excluded and those at risk of facing significant barriers to engagement in modern society. Some 13.5 million people live in low-income households or in poverty, and 1.7 million adults do not have a bank account. One-third of people over the age of 80 have never used a cash machine or prefer to avoid them; 3.8 million UK households do not have any internet; and 40% of the working-age population have less than £100 in savings. The vulnerable or potentially vulnerable are not a fixed or homogeneous group, but a common characteristic is often poverty—simply not having enough money—and having to transact on the most expensive terms.
The Select Committee outlined some of the particular circumstances that made various groups vulnerable: those with identity verification issues, such as ex-offenders; those with mental health challenges, where financial exclusion can have a variety of negative consequences; and the disabled, where often reasonable adjustments are inadequate. We have very serious issues to confront.
We could debate these important issues all day, but I am aware that we have a further amendment coming up in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, which might be a formulation on which the Government can offer a measure of support. It certainly has our support. In the meantime, I beg to move.
My Lords, I was glad to add my name to Amendment 8, moved by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton. Amendment 17 is almost the other side of the coin.
I think that most Members of this House, including those in the Government, feel that financial inclusion is sufficiently important that it should be expressed through most of the financial bodies that we create. The noble Lord laid out very well the depth of the problem; others on the committee may speak to that in a moment.
It would be helpful to have clarification under the Bill, in part because we have genuine confusion. I am pretty sure that Ministers have all been under the impression that this matter is wrapped up and dealt with in the context of the powers, responsibilities and objectives of the FCA but, having talked to the FCA, they will now be aware that it has a very constrained role in this area and does not provide capacity to deal with the problem—for example, filling in gaps—that most people assume that it has.
Part of our problem, of course, is that we never consolidate financial legislation, so there is genuine confusion over who does what and assumptions that particular issues are taken care of when they are not. Financial inclusion is one of those that has fallen right through the holes, due to the mismatch of a whole variety of different pieces of legislation. This is an opportunity to provide for a body to consider these issues centrally to everything that it does. What it does is very relevant to that process. That is obviously not a complete answer to the problem of financial inclusion—that involves many others—but we have to make a start somewhere. It should now become a regular habit for financial inclusion to be addressed in each piece of financial legislation.
My Lords, nobody in this House would disagree with the idea that we must do as much as possible to reduce financial exclusion and promote financial inclusion, but, again, I am not sure that the amendments are practical. Normally, anything proposed by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, is of the very greatest sense; I know that from experience going back many years.
However, I worry that to amend the strategic function as proposed to strengthen further the obligation on the new body may be just a bit too much of a burden, too onerous, too open-ended and not properly defined. It is very hard to define exactly what is financial inclusion and what is financial exclusion. Obviously, the former is a good thing and the latter a bad thing, but if the strategic function is already there to support improvement in financial capability, the ability of the public to manage debt and the provision of financial education to children and young people—although I think that should probably be to everybody—the amendment duplicates that, makes it too vague, too hard to define and, potentially, too onerous.
Furthermore, I also worry about enshrining in statute the terms,
“vulnerable individuals, families and communities”,
because there is nobody in your Lordships’ House who does not recognise that vulnerable individuals need more help and support than those who are not so vulnerable. Nevertheless, it is very hard to define, and to create a different obligation for an ill-defined set of individuals and communities from the general obligation to all members of the public may be confusing and make the legislation less clear and less effective. For those reasons, although I understand the noble Lords’ objectives, I cannot support their amendments.
My Lords, I rise briefly to add my strong support for the amendments. In so doing, I apologise to the House that I have been unable, for reasons of ill-health, to participate in earlier discussion of the Bill.
As chair of the former Lords Select Committee on Financial Exclusion, I was very pleased when I read the amendments. The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and my noble friend Lady Kramer have set out their rationale very well, and I shall not go over that ground again, but if we are setting up a new single financial guidance body, promoting financial inclusion must be clearly set out as one of its key objectives.
On the point referred to by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, it would be nice to know when we will receive the government response to the Select Committee report. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think I recall that the noble Baroness, when asked back in July, said that the government response would be available “very soon”. We are now some way off the tail end of July. If the Minister could give any clarification of when the government response will be available, that would be extremely helpful.
My Lords, the co-pilot is in charge for this leg of the journey. I take this opportunity to address the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, on the common theme of financial inclusion, and welcome the contributions from the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, and my noble friend Lord Trenchard, who anticipated in part some of my response.
Having listened to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, I would not disagree with what he said about the challenges that confront the Government in this area: the problems of financial numeracy and the serious issues, to use his words, that he identified as needing to be addressed. I will come to that in a moment.
As I said in Committee, we take the issue of financial exclusion very seriously and are grateful for the important work of the Financial Exclusion Select Committee in highlighting this important issue. We have considered the committee’s wide-reaching report, including its recommendations concerning government leadership and the welfare system.
In answer to the two questions about timing, the Government aim to respond to the committee’s report—here I use an option not mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie—before Third Reading. I understand noble Lords’ impatience that we did not have our response to the report available for Report, but I hope that there will be adequate time to consider it before Third Reading. I reassure noble Lords that the Government’s response will address the committee’s recommendations and will bring forward new proposals on how better to co-ordinate across government, the regulators and the wider sector on the key issue of tackling the significant issue of financial exclusion.
As was mentioned in our debate, this area has been given new prominence within the DWP ministerial team by the appointment of my honourable friend Guy Opperman. At the same time, it is important that this change is seen in the context of HM Treasury’s ongoing, government-wide policy responsibility for financial inclusion and exclusion. A key part of the Government’s approach to tackling these issues will be to require the relevant departments to work collaboratively, and the response may say something about that.
I stressed in Committee the Government’s understanding of the terms “financial inclusion” and “capability”, and I thought that we had established an element of agreement on this point. At the risk of reopening a theological discussion, financial inclusion refers to ensuring that members of the public have access to financial services. Financial capability is ensuring that the public are best able to make use of the financial services to which they have access. These terms are widely accepted by, for example, the World Bank. It is important that we build on this shared understanding of the terms so that there is clarity about the intentions for the body, which is to build financial capability among members of the public. To put this another way, the new body should not have a role to regulate the supply of financial services and products by the industry. It should, however, play a key role in helping people engage with or consume these products and services.
This does not mean that the supply of these products is not important. The point is that it is the role of the Financial Conduct Authority—not the SFGB—to ensure that appropriate action is taken when the market fails to supply useful and affordable services and products. So the omission of financial inclusion in the Bill is not an oversight; it is deliberately omitted from the body’s functions and objectives which refer to the supply of useful services such as savings, credit and insurance products. The proposed amendments would greatly expand the body’s statutory remit and are also likely to create confusion over the roles of the Treasury and the FCA, both of which have the relevant responsibilities and powers and are better placed to influence the supply of financial services and products.
In terms of financial exclusion, as the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, rightly observed in Committee, even more important than these definitions is the question: what will the Government do to act in a more co-ordinated way to tackle financial exclusion? I want to assure noble Lords that, following the Select Committee’s work in this area, the Government will propose, in their response, more appropriate and effective ways to address this issue than through the functions and objectives of the SFGB.
With regards to the particular issue of improving access to financial services for vulnerable people—which comes under Amendment 17—we consider that the FCA, and not the SFGB, is more appropriate to deliver that role. The FCA has already carried out a great deal of work in this area. Many Peers had a helpful meeting with the FCA last week. I hope it reassured noble Lords that the FCA takes its responsibility on consumer protection very seriously. The FCA published two pieces of in-depth research, carried out in 2015 and 2016, which supported the development of current initiatives to address access issues for vulnerable people. I came away from that meeting with a slightly different impression from that of the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer.
As discussed in the meeting, issues regarding access and vulnerability are at the core of the FCA’s mission and business plan, published in April this year. To quote from the mission:
“Understanding vulnerability is central to how we make decisions. Consumers in vulnerable circumstances are more susceptible to harm and generally less able to advance their own interests”.
The FCA is due to undertake a number of further projects to understand better the concerns of vulnerable groups, not least through its forthcoming work to develop a consumer strategy by means of its consumer approach paper to be published in the next few weeks. This will provide a means for the FCA to measure outcomes for vulnerable consumers. It will work to develop vulnerability mapping so as to ensure that it has captured the needs of vulnerable consumers when finalising its business priorities.
In Committee, I mentioned the FCA’s TechSprints, so I do not need to do so again. It is also exploring issues for those living with cancer and the problems they face in gaining affordable access to travel insurance. In due course, the FCA will publish a feedback statement with its findings and the next steps in the light of responses to its call for input.
More recently, in September, the FCA published an occasional paper outlining the findings of its ageing population project. This paper reviews the policy implications of an ageing population and the resulting impact on financial services. The FCA highlights risks to older consumers who are more likely than other groups to be vulnerable—an issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie. To try and minimise harm, it has suggested areas where financial services firms could give greater consideration to how they treat older consumers.
Finally, even more recently, the FCA published its inaugural, annual financial lives survey—its largest tracking survey of consumers and their use of financial services. This is a huge undertaking, drawing on responses from just under 13,000 UK consumers aged 18 and over. The report tells the financial story of six different age groups to show key themes at each life stage, from those aged 18 to 24 to those aged 60 and over. The survey shows that 50% of UK adults—25 million—display one or more characteristics that signal their potential vulnerability. The FCA will use the results of the survey to prioritise its work. I hope the description of some of what the FCA is doing reassures noble Lords that it takes seriously its responsibility towards those who are vulnerable.
As a result of the FCA's work and its engagement with firms, there have been tangible developments from the industry in this area. This includes work led by the Financial Services Vulnerability Taskforce. In addition, the FCA has also seen increasing evidence that firms identify and then improve outcomes for vulnerable consumers.
To reiterate, as my noble friend Lord Trenchard said, the current amendments would greatly expand the remit of the body and could cause confusion over the role of different public institutions. I hope that, having heard this explanation, the noble Lord might be willing to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply which does not surprise me in great detail. May I start by saying to the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, what a great pleasure it is to see you with us this afternoon? I hope we will have another occasion—perhaps before Third Reading—to acknowledge the role that she played in producing this important tome on financial exclusion.
The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, said it would be too much of a burden. Throughout our discussions, we have been told that this is a framework Bill. What use is made of this framework will depend on who ends up as the chief executive and the role that they have. From this point of view, these amendments are deliberately non-prescriptive. Are we seriously saying that this body would have no role in relation to a strategy to improve financial inclusion or combat financial exclusion; that this would be off limits and nothing to do with it? I accept entirely what was said about the role of the FCA and the importance of its remit in these circumstances. We may not agree with it in its entirety but are we to say that this new body, which has a range of functions relating to information guidance and the obligation to develop a strategy—particularly on this important issue of financial exclusion—must be silent on these matters; that it has no role at all? This does not seem right.
I have taken on board the debate we had in Committee about it being the role of the FCA to lead on this; or the FCA now and the new Minister across government. I accept that. Perhaps before we had formulated a lead role for the single body; I think we have moved back from that and accepted the points that were made. However, I have difficulty in accepting that it would have no role in the future. The Minister looks as though he is about to spring to his feet.
Perhaps I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie. Of course, the SFGB is going to work closely with the FCA and the Treasury on issues regarding financial inclusion. As I said, we envisage a partnership, with the FCA promoting access and the SFGB promoting capability; this is where the two meet. We do not see the SFGB leading on inclusion in the way in which it will be leading on financial capability. This is why we have difficulty with the particular amendment that the noble Lord has put forward.
I thank the noble Lord for that clarification. The amendment does not suggest that the single body would be leading on it. This is the change between the debate we had in Committee and the debate tonight. We recognise that it has a role to play in supporting but not in running the show. Perhaps we had better move on because I am not sure that we are going to reach agreement on this. The Minister’s notes may reflect our original position, but he seems to have acknowledged that there is a role for the SFGB in supporting the activities around financial inclusion and exclusion. At this late stage, I am not sure if there is anything that can be done to reflect this. If we are to get a report, feedback or the Government’s response to the report of the House of Lords Select Committee before Third Reading, I hope that the Minister will acknowledge that this issue will not necessarily be off bounds when we come to Third Reading, as that potential new information runs through a lot of the debate that we have had. I hope that before we conclude on this the Minister will give an assurance that we can raise these issues at Third Reading. If he wants to give that assurance now, that would be good.
The noble Lord may be tempting me to say something beyond my pay grade about what is in order at Third Reading and what is not. However, I will reflect on what he said and about the impact of publishing the response. I would be rash to give a commitment at the Dispatch Box that this issue will definitely be addressed at Third Reading but I will do my best.
Clearly, the Minister is a safe pair of hands in the cockpit. I thank him for that. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, for her support. Her remarks mirrored our position. We are not saying that the FCA should not lead on some of this, but it cannot and will not do everything and there is a role for the body we are discussing. Having said that, I look forward to the amendment that will come up soon. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 8.
Amendment 8 withdrawn.
9: Clause 2, page 2, line 32, after “children” insert “, care leavers”
My Lords, I will speak also to Amendment 10 in this group. We may repeat some of the ground that has just been covered. Perhaps we can move at the speed of a jet engine rather than that of a turbo prop to expedite things, if I can extend the metaphor a little, as this issue is broadly similar and was raised in Committee.
I make two points. When we raised what is now Amendment 9 in the form of the then Amendment 16A, which I think was in the names of the noble Earls, Lord Kinnoull and Lord Listowel, and the then Amendment 18, which was in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, we thought that there was room to explore further the detail that we wanted to see in the wording of the Bill itself. However, we were reassured by many of the Ministers’ remarks in both these debates, so to that extent did not push it. It is interesting to reflect on what might be contained in the Government’s response to the report from the Lords Select Committee which deals with these two important issues. We are talking here not so much about the broader strategic and other issues but particularities about the way in which some of the detailed work that is expected of this body might take place. That work should include care leavers. We had a rich discussion about what care leavers needed in terms of financial strategy and support. The Minister picked that up in her response and we had a sense that there was a government push behind this in view of the recognition that people leaving care who had not been given proper financial support or financial education would need additional help. The hope was that the SFGB would be able to provide that in whatever form seemed appropriate.
As regards Amendment 10, there have been a number of discussions around the question of whether or not one can segment the people who need financial education into groups, perhaps by age or lifestyle. The noble Lord mentioned the report from the FCA on the lifestyles of those who experience difficulties with finance, which I read with great interest and found very interesting. It is a wonderful piece of work which tries to cover the whole United Kingdom. It examines how people live their lives, how difficult and chaotic those lives can be in some cases and how well planned and organised in others—not mine, I should say. It is interesting to reflect on some of the figures mentioned by my noble friend Lord McKenzie. We are talking about a lot of people—4 million people who regularly are at a point where their lives could collapse because of a small incident. That is a terrifying thought. If we cannot provide the education and support necessary for them, we fail as a society.
Amendment 10 attempts to move away from that slightly broad segmented picture to consider the various stages of people’s financial lives when they make major decisions on the purchase of houses, cars or whatever it is we do with our lives. We have learned from those who have spoken in these debates that the educational process that goes on in people’s minds is accelerated and assisted when it is either going through a period of stress or when a particular event is happening. For example, when you buy a house you have to know about mortgage rates, the issues that are going forward and the prospects you have for insuring it, reinsuring it, and all the stuff that goes with that. That tends to fall back once you have done it and you are not thinking of moving again but the point at which the education can take place is tied into an event, not to an age group or particular activity in life. These amendments try to get a sense from the Government of how the SFGB would operate.
The general response which we have already covered, was encapsulated in a previous debate where the noble Baroness said:
“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.—[Official Report, 19/7/17; col. 1726.]
You can agree or disagree with that. I think there is a case for flagging up and embedding certain policies in the Bill. However, sufficient account may be taken of the comments made in the debates in Committee and on Report to allow that to flow naturally into the work that the SFGB will do.
The point about repositioning these amendments for discussion tonight is that time has moved on since July. The Bill itself has changed a bit and some of the thinking around it has benefited from the wider discussions which have taken place, not least the visit by the consumer affairs director at the FCA, who, as the noble Lord said, spoke at a meeting last week and made some very interesting remarks about what the work entailed and what approach would be taken to it. That will complement the knowledge and understanding we have about the SFGB when it comes forward. In that sense it is important that we revisit these areas not because they are important in themselves, although they are, but because of the way in which they tell us more about how the SFGB will operate. If some material on this emerges in the Government’s response to the Select Committee’s report, it would be helpful to take up the issue again at Third Reading, if it should prove necessary. I beg to move.
Obviously, we support these amendments. The Government’s argument has always been that this issue will act as a constraint. However, we think it draws attention to the problem and empowers people. One of our great dissatisfactions historically with the provision of financial education and financial capability is that it does not seem to create people who are more financially capable when they need to be. Amendment 10 raises once again the issue of timing and relevance. We are all human beings and we can go through various forms of training but if we then never use those skills or that information but require it 10, 15 or 20 years later, that is the point at which it needs to be recalled rather than having a tick-box exercise to show that at the age of 16 we took a class on those issues. We want this education to be relevant and to underscore the direction that I hope very much the single financial guidance body will want to take, but is by no means required to take, of looking for relevance and at situations where there is critical need, care leavers being one of the most obvious examples of that. We have known for years that care leavers get themselves into enormous trouble because of their lack of awareness of these issues but no body has felt it necessary to step into the breach. Here we have the perfect body to step into the breach. That would be entirely consistent with what it is doing. That is the mood and spirit of these amendments. I hope very much that the Government take the issues on board because were we not to see results that responded to the spirit and meaning behind these amendments, we would have a body that was very suboptimal. I think the House would agree with that.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for his very important comments in introducing these amendments. He has covered some issues that I was going to cover in relation to my amendment, which is next. I wonder whether he feels my amendment covers some of the things he is concerned about, because care leavers are just one group in vulnerable circumstances—we all know that—but there are other groups as well. I have a slight concern that once we start to put lots of different lists in the Bill, somebody will be left out. I will explain why our amendment is worded as it is and I am very grateful for the support from his Benches, but I raise that as a question.
My Lords, in response to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, about the propulsion available to the co-pilot, it remains the same: the journey may be a little shorter and therefore the destination may be reached more quickly.
Amendments 9 and 10 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, would alter the strategic functional matters relating to financial education. I thank all those who have contributed to this debate for highlighting once again the important issue of financial education. We had a good debate on this issue in Committee and I believe we agreed on both sides that financial education is extremely important at all stages of life—a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer. A key role of the new body will be to improve people’s financial capability and help them make better financial decisions, and to identify any gaps that there may be at the moment in the provision of such advice and guidance.
The financial education element of the strategic function is targeting a specific area of need, which is to ensure that children and young people are supported at an early age on how to manage their finances, for example, by learning the benefits of budgeting and saving. More specifically, the new body will have a co-ordinating role to match funders with providers of financial education projects and initiatives aimed at children, and will ensure that these 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 the national strategy, which we expect it to deliver.
As I explained in Committee, the Money Advice Service has been undertaking that role. It is one aspect that respondents to the Government’s consultations have overwhelmingly agreed it is important for the new body to continue working on. MAS’s work under the financial capability strategy focuses specifically on improving people’s capability, which they need to make key decisions, such as those presented in this amendment. We expect the new body will carry forward and improve the work under the umbrella of the new SFGB. I stress that this does not mean that the new body will not be providing financial education for adults. As I have explained, this is a key role of the body in improving financial capability, as it is for MAS now. For example, MAS currently runs a pilot on adult numeracy with National Numeracy through the What Works Fund. Also, through the work with the Financial Advice Working Group, it is creating a simple portal for employers linking to the MAS website and exploring partnerships for helping employees with money management. Finally, through the financial capability strategy, MAS works with the National Association of Student Money Advisers to test and improve the model for financial education for younger adults. We expect the body to continue and build on work in this space.
Moving to the specific amendments, Amendment 9 would alter this function so that a strategy for the provision of financial education is extended to care leavers. I thank the noble Lord for raising this point. It was also an issue raised by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in Committee. As I highlighted to the noble Earl at that point, the Government agree and we expect the new body to consider further initiatives to support care leavers as well as other young people from marginalised backgrounds—for example, those leaving youth detention or those with learning difficulties.
As we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, Amendment 11 refers to vulnerable people and I absolutely agree with her: care leavers are vulnerable people. I hope my noble friend will say a little more about how we plan to help vulnerable people, including care leavers, when we debate Amendment 11.
Amendment 10 would make provision specifically for adults contemplating difficult financial decisions, such as mortgages, pensions and vehicle finance plans. As I said in Committee in response to the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, and the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, this is the role of the SFGB as a whole as it delivers money and pension 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 members of the public”,
including in these areas. To give the new body a requirement to advise the Secretary of State on explicit issues, worthy as these may be, is unwise. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, said that one could either agree or disagree with the point I have just made. I happen to agree with it—he may disagree with it—but there are problems in focusing on specific issues. There are several topics that the body may wish to look into as part of its strategic function and choosing a few could risk limiting its ability to look more widely at the sector and have regard to emerging issues in the future. For those reasons, I hope the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for his comments and for dealing with such speed with the issues concerned. One always has to be a bit suspicious about a pilot who is very determined to be right about what he is doing. We hope they receive messages from outside when they have gone off course to get them back on course.
I think we have given this a fair knock. The issue between us is whether care leavers and others in vulnerable situations should be mentioned explicitly or whether there is another way. I suspect that will be raised in the next amendment—I await that. I broadly agree that the framework and nature of the Bill suggests that we should not be looking at particular details which will just cause difficulty, but I also hope that the words mentioned in these debates are read by those who will take on this position and that they will use them to inform and enhance their understanding of what Parliament wanted out of this process. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 9 withdrawn.
Amendment 10 not moved.
11: Clause 2, page 2, line 32, at end insert—
“( ) access to financial services for people in vulnerable circumstances,”
My Lords, I am grateful to those who have put their names to Amendment 11: my noble friends Lady Coussins and Lady Hollins, as well as the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, who addressed these issues in Committee and has been trying to move things forward. I also thank the Minister for meeting me and my noble friend Lady Coussins, for giving so much of her time and paying so much attention to every detail of the arguments that we put to her in that meeting, and for making great efforts to address the points we were making.
I turn specifically to this amendment and the way it is worded. We have used the wording “people in vulnerable circumstances” because people may be permanently deemed vulnerable—such as people with learning difficulties, people who have a permanent speech disorder or those who have difficulty communicating. There are, however, an awful lot more people who have a fluctuating impairment of capacity, either through illness or medication. There are also people who have been coping really well but have something happen to them, such as an acquired brain injury. All find themselves in vulnerable circumstances. To comment again on care leavers’ situation, there is powerful, researched evidence that children who have had four or more adverse childhood experiences are extremely vulnerable to lots of other factors in life, but they, having been in care, are not the only children who are vulnerable. There are a whole lot who were not in care but have had similar adverse childhood experiences and then have a great deal of difficulty handling their adult life and independence, and in responding to things.
Another difficulty now being faced is the closure of some bank branches and the rise of internet banking. People who have a tremor, for example, need assistance, and they may then find that they do not have the privacy they want. The list could go on and on but, one way or another, we would end up including over half the population, to whom things can happen at different times. Everyone in this Chamber must have found that when they are acutely bereaved they are vulnerable for a time. Their thinking is impaired and they cannot cope with some of the decisions they make but they come out of it, and I do not think anyone would label any of your Lordships as having impaired capacity during this debate.
Therefore, our thinking was that improving access to and awareness of financial services for people who find themselves in vulnerable circumstances, whatever those might be, should run right through the core functions. A little like the lettering in Brighton rock, it should go right the way through.
I must declare an interest as chair of the National Mental Capacity Forum. I have been working with banks, building societies and the Equity Release Council, and some of them—I should like to single out the Nationwide Building Society—have done fantastically good work, but there is a need for the whole sector to be taken along. Laws send social messages too. Therefore, I hope the Government will be able to look favourably on the amendment, which is worded to create not a list but a whole philosophy compatible with other legislation, particularly the provisions of the Mental Capacity Act. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 11. I remind noble Lords of my interest as president of the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline and Business Debtline. I echo my noble friend’s thanks to the Minister for meeting us yesterday to discuss the intentions behind the amendment.
My noble friend has laid out the need to address access to financial services for people in vulnerable circumstances. It is also important to acknowledge the work that is already under way in this area—in particular since the FCA’s paper on vulnerability in 2015. Since then, the British Bankers’ Association’s Vulnerability Taskforce has produced a report challenging the industry to improve, and the issue of vulnerability has remained high on the agenda.
All that is of course very welcome but, as my noble friend indicated, the term “vulnerable people” does not necessarily mean the same as “people in vulnerable circumstances”. Very often in the past, “vulnerability” was used interchangeably with mental health issues, yet there is a growing recognition of the need for financial services and other organisations to consider a much wider range of vulnerable circumstances.
As an illustration of that need, the Money Advice Trust provides training for the sector in supporting customers in vulnerable circumstances, and demand has been growing significantly over recent years. The charity has now trained more than 11,000 staff working in more than 160 firms. Increasingly, this training covers areas way beyond mental health, such as supporting customers with addictions or a serious illness, those suffering a bereavement or redundancy, and people contemplating suicide, to give a few examples. Yet many people in vulnerable circumstances are still excluded from financial services and are unable to access the support they need.
The SFGB provides an ideal opportunity to increase the focus on vulnerability through its national strategy. As I said in Committee, the Department for Work and Pensions, as the sponsoring department, could also provide a very useful link between the body’s work and the broader financial inclusion policy agenda.
This amendment seeks to take the good work on vulnerability that is being done by the industry and the voluntary sector and give it an explicit focus on the face of the Bill. I hope that it will receive careful consideration by the Minister or that something very similar that captures the intention of the amendment but is perhaps better worded can be brought forward by the Government at Third Reading.
My Lords, I am pleased to add my support for this amendment. My own particular interest relates to people with learning disabilities, who can be presented with significant challenges when it comes to managing money on a daily basis, even where local financial services are readily available to them.
The move to digital banking and even past innovations such as chip and pin present a real risk for people with limited capacity—a risk of exploitation. When bank branches close, the financial services available at the Post Office are often held up as an answer. However, for people with limited mental capacity—not just people with learning disabilities—they are not the answer. For instance, the Post Office no longer provides a paying-in book, and the only way of obtaining cash is through chip and pin. There are hundreds of similar examples, relating not just to people with learning disabilities but to those who are in vulnerable circumstances at different times, as we have heard from my noble friends.
This welcome Bill is creating a single financial guidance body that could make a significant difference in improving financial capability, reducing debt problems and helping more people to engage with their pensions. Perhaps providing easier-to-read or pictorial guides to finances would be a useful starting point for the new organisation to consider—for example, covering banking and managing personal budgets—with the aim of helping people with learning difficulties take more control of their finances. It could consider appropriate training so that people with a learning disability and their families can be better supported, as online guides are unlikely to be adequate for these groups.
I must declare my interest here as the chair of Beyond Words, a community interest company which works to empower people with learning disabilities by developing pictorial narratives to help them when circumstances are too challenging.
I hope that the Minister will support the amendment to ensure that the new body keeps in mind the needs of people in more financially vulnerable situations.
My Lords, we on these Benches would gladly have added our names to this amendment but the list was full, which is always good news, particularly when the inspiration and leadership come from the Cross Benches. I just want to make it clear that we are very supportive of the amendment.
I also want to add one comment. I know that sometimes the use of the term “vulnerable” is challenged but, as I know from dealing with legislation in the other place, although that was quite some time ago, there is a long and very established history of using the term “vulnerable”, certainly at least—although, I am sure, not limited to—among the utilities, which obviously have to recognise and identify all kinds of vulnerable customers for a whole range of purposes. It allows what I would call reasonable common sense to apply in identifying the full scope of people who are vulnerable. Some of the examples that we have had today have been around mental capacity issues and learning difficulties, but it seems to me that nothing in the many historical ways in which this term has been used in legislation previously would limit it or prevent it, for example, applying to care leavers or, in terms of financial education, to younger children and to the broader group that we are discussing.
Therefore, I hope that the Minister will accept that there is a well-tried, true and well-trodden path setting out how we identify vulnerable people. The term is frequently used to tackle a variety of needs and there is plenty of legislative precedent that makes this a very effective amendment.
My Lords, I add my support for the amendment and congratulate the Cross Benches and the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, on tabling it. In a way, it is very sad that the financial services industry is not making more effort to look after vulnerable customers or indeed to present materials in the ways that the noble Baroness described. I think that doing so pictorially could help everybody. So far, financial services are all about dense words and jargon that people struggle to understand.
This body is due to be financed by the industry and the industry has perhaps not always taken enough care. One hears stories from cancer charities where somebody would call up their bank and say, “Look, I am going through some treatment. Is there any chance I could either have a loan or some respite from repayments?”. It simply is not on their agenda to help people in that way, even when people approach them and explain their vulnerability and their circumstances. So it is right that this body should introduce some measures that are designed particularly for vulnerable customers and, indeed, change the narrative and the language used to explain finance, educate people and inform them about finance, in ways that the industry seems not yet to have been able to do.
My Lords, following that speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, I support these amendments. I want to reinforce something that my noble friend Lady Kramer said earlier. Language is very important in this context and the amendment addresses that perfectly. We have to be careful how we use language in terms of social security and social protection, above and beyond some of the specialisms familiar to some of the noble Lords who made powerful speeches on this amendment.
I want to add something to the definition of people in vulnerable circumstances. A couple of weeks ago, I was interested to read some remarks from Mr Frank Field, who as noble Lords will know is the chair of the departmental Select Committee covering the DWP. He said something that I recognised, which is new to me and him, about what we as a country are facing immediately and over the next two or three years, with the conjunction of interest rates, a freeze in benefits and other things, together with the administration of the ultimate safety net that now resides in some but not all local authorities after the abolition some years back of the Social Fund and community care grants. Frank Field characterised that as families falling out of stable situations into destitution, particularly in relation to three very normal things. Their electricity is being cut off; they are being evicted, because their rent is not being kept up, and there is the dimension of universal credit implementation in relation to that in the short term; and there is food poverty. In these three circumstances we are seeing for the first time in this country, certainly in my experience, these things coming together and ordinary families suddenly finding themselves falling out of financial security and stability.
We have nothing. The previous set of social security provisions always had a residual safety net. I am concerned now that that is absent, particularly in certain local authority areas. I hope that we can find some way to capture this, if not by this amendment then with something that captures the sense behind it. There is a timing issue here. Over the next two or three years, we need the Bill to pick up people who have faced the conjunction of circumstances that Frank Field described and embrace them. If it is not done by this amendment, it should be done by something else.
My Lords, could I just look at one other aspect of vulnerability? It is looked on as being a disability of some kind, but vulnerability is also down to isolation, where one might live and being on the periphery. Look at banking in particular—the most basic place that somebody goes or would like to go for financial advice or help at first if they live out in the country. Look at the number of banks that are closing branches left, right and centre. Of course it is business, but we have to realise what is really going on there. They say that they have consulted and we had various banks, without naming them, which came in front of our committee and said, “We consulted before we closed”. But we did not find one instance where a bank had changed its mind because it had consulted. It is as simple as that. We have to look at it on those terms.
Actually, we had Nationwide. I must forgive it for a minute, because I rather liked it. Nationwide said, “We are opening some branches”—and it is being novel about it. It could be opening a branch with one man, who will sit in what could be an office or a caravan. He could be visiting a village or whatever. When the customer says to somebody he probably knows, “Bill, listen. What can you do? I need a loan or a mortgage”, he says, “Hold on”, and presses a button. Up comes Peter from the loans office who says, “Just sit down and we’ll have a chat about this”. He says, “Would you like some coffee?” and the guy says, “Yes please”—because he likes getting anything free that he can. He presses a button and the coffee arrives from next door. The whole thing is very homely. He says, “When I have this loan, what about a mortgage?”. He says, “I’ll bring in Charles on that and the three of us can talk about how it will work”.
Ultimately that is no different from what always used to happen—you went into your bank to the man you knew and he then took you into an office to see somebody else—but this is novel thinking. Banks will always worry about their business, but they should not necessarily be closing branches and we have to encourage them to be novel. The internet is there and the banks must watch out. I heard a comment the other day or saw it in the Financial Times. It was something about banks becoming vulnerable, because people might not keep their money there. The sooner the banks catch on to what is going on and come up with novel ideas, the sooner the vulnerable will not be as vulnerable as they appear at the moment.
I live on the border with the Republic, and we will talk about Brexit another time. The banks have literally all come back from the border. Societies in those villages are increasingly vulnerable. They are beginning to be scared. They have to drive 20 miles, so they had better have something good to talk to the bank about. They had better know exactly what they are doing before they go. A lot of them may be older people without the internet. Something like the Nationwide’s idea is the way we should be going. We must treat vulnerability not only as those who may be medically vulnerable but as vulnerable members of our society.
I will carry on the spirit of the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood. In Committee, several Peers ran several amendments trying to capture this issue of vulnerability—whether it was vulnerability because of a health shock or because of some standing reason. As the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, explained in moving her amendment, the attraction of Amendment 11 is that it does not seek to list or define. It just tries to capture the principle that there is a category of people who become or who are vulnerable for a series of reasons, and they need to be addressed.
The purpose of the single financial guidance body is to achieve a series of improved public and individual outcomes by improving a person’s financial capability, but a person’s capability cannot be improved—it just cannot happen—if they are excluded from the market for financial services or denied the access or the means to make good decisions. As my noble friend Lord McKenzie and I frequently say, the fundamental, immutable requirement of financial capability is that you are included and have access. You cannot begin to become capable without it. One feels the sense around the Chamber, which I hope the Minister is able to find a way of recognising, of a wide concern and a very constructive amendment. It is not overprescriptive but allows the financial guidance body to recognise that it needs to address this problem.
My Lords, this has been a good debate. I emphasise that we support the amendment, which is no surprise given that I put my name to it. I am sorry that we pre-empted someone: I am happy to step back.
This is a very elegant formulation, which stops a whole list being produced. It instinctively recognises that people might be vulnerable for reasons to do with their circumstances but that this is not necessarily something endemic to them. There are fluctuating circumstances which particularly fit that description: in our short debate we have had discussion of learning disabilities, mental capacity and addictions. A broader issue, but still within the key definition of vulnerability, is isolation. The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, made a very telling point on that. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood—I keep calling him my noble friend; we have debated too often over the years—spoke about the impact of vulnerability because of destitution. We should recognise that people may be perfectly fit and able-bodied and have all their mental capacity but if they are broke and have no money then they are potentially vulnerable or in vulnerable circumstances.
The formulation is powerful and succinct and we support it. I hope the Minister will find some way of incorporating it into the Bill—even if not in the precise wording, although it seems excellent to me—so that we can support it.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this extremely helpful debate. A number of issues have been raised about the scope of the term “vulnerability”. This is incredibly helpful to us and to our overall approach to the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, made reference to his hope that the report of our debate in Hansard will be seen and our words read by those who are charged with taking forward the delivery of this body. I assure the noble Lord that, thus far, everyone I have spoken to who is involved in this world, in the three current bodies, is very aware of our debates and I trust that they will be taking on board what is said.
Amendment 11, tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay, Lady Coussins and Lady Hollins, and the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, would add an element to the body’s strategic function, so it could include issues of access to financial services for vulnerable people in the national strategy. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for being a bit repetitive, following my noble friend’s remarks in previous debates, but it is important to have this on the record. As I mentioned in Committee, the Government take the issue of financial exclusion very seriously. As my noble friend Lord Young mentioned earlier, the Government are grateful for the important work of the Financial Exclusion Select Committee in highlighting this important issue and will aim to publish their response to the committee’s wide-reaching report ahead of Third Reading.
The Government’s response will address all the committee’s recommendations and bring forward new proposals on how to better co-ordinate across government, regulators and the wider sector to tackle the significant issue of financial exclusion. I see that my honourable friend from another place, Guy Opperman, the Minister for Financial Inclusion at the Department for Work and Pensions, is here. We have been working extremely closely on this Bill and on developing our response to the report.
My noble friend Lord Young earlier highlighted the difference between financial inclusion and capability and the Government’s intention that this body will be designed to build financial capability among the public. The Government have therefore deliberately omitted from the Bill references to financial inclusion and individuals’ access to financial services. An appropriate supply to people of useful and affordable financial services and products is very important, and the Government therefore work closely with the industry regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, to ensure that appropriate action is taken when the market fails to supply services and products. The amendment would greatly expand the body’s statutory remit and we fear it is likely to create confusion over the roles of Her Majesty’s Treasury and the Financial Conduct Authority, both of which have the relevant responsibilities and powers to influence the supply of financial services products.
When looking specifically at improving access to financial services and products for people who are vulnerable, the FCA—not the SFGB—is more appropriate to deliver that role. My noble friend Lord Young has referred in depth to the work that the FCA is doing on consumer vulnerability, and many noble Lords attended the useful meeting with the FCA last week. I hope that noble Lords will agree that this demonstrated its commitment to this issue. The FCA has done a lot of work in this area, publishing two pieces of in-depth research, carried out in 2015 and 2016, and having issues of access and vulnerability at the core of its mission and business plan. We are awaiting the FCA’s forthcoming work to develop a consumer strategy through its consumer approach paper, which will be published in the next few weeks. As my noble friend Lord Young has said, this will provide a means for it to measure outcomes for vulnerable consumers and ensure that it has captured their needs when finalising its business priorities.
The successful launches of the FCA’s TechSprint events have identified innovative solutions that can improve access for vulnerable groups. In March 2017, with the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, it brought together over 100 developers and experts from 31 firms to take part in a TechSprint event to explore solutions for those suffering from poor mental health. It has also carried out further work to explore the issues which those living with cancer can face in gaining affordable access, for example to travel insurance. In due course, it will publish a feedback statement with its findings and next steps in light of responses to its call for input.
More recently, in September 2017, the FCA published an occasional paper outlining findings of its ageing population project. The paper reviews the policy implications of an ageing population and the resulting impact on financial services. It highlights risks to older consumers, who are more likely to be vulnerable than other groups. To try to minimise harm, it has suggested areas for financial services firms to give greater consideration to, as part of how they treat older consumers.
Finally, last week, as noble Lords will know, the FCA published its inaugural annual financial lives survey: its largest tracking survey of consumers and their use of financial services. This was a huge undertaking and, as my noble friend mentioned, it showed that 50% of UK adults—25.6 million—display one or more characteristics that signal their potential vulnerability. That speaks to what a number of noble Lords have said this evening about the kinds of situations, circumstances and things that happen in people’s lives that can bring them within the scope of the term “vulnerability”. The FCA will use the results of the survey to prioritise its work.
As a result of the FCA’s work and its engagement with firms, there have been tangible developments from the industry in this area. This includes work led by the Financial Services Vulnerability Taskforce. In addition, the FCA has also seen increasing evidence that firms identify and improve outcomes for vulnerable consumers.
To reiterate, the clause outlining the body’s strategic function is designed to ensure that the new body helps consumers to manage their money well and to make the most of services and products made available by the industry. The current amendment would greatly expand that function and may cause confusion over the role of different public institutions.
However, we understand the point made by all noble Lords and the intention of the amendment, which is that the body needs to be clear about supporting vulnerable people. The body already has an objective to prioritise people most in need. In a sense, I am attracted to the term “vulnerable” as opposed to, in the previous amendment, having lists including those such as “care leavers”, which could, as suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, lead to exclusion of certain individuals. As noble Lords have demonstrated through debate, it is very hard to encapsulate how one can identify people who might fit into that category; therefore, a more generic term, such as “vulnerable”, which encapsulates people with fluctuating or impaired capacity, might work. In a sense, it would be a whole-philosophy approach, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, referred to looking at how utilities manage that issue. As an ex-board member of a utility and water company, I know that a lot of emphasis is placed on utilities working in certain categories to ensure people are not beyond the possibility of being respected when they find themselves in a difficult situation. That situation may be one event in their life, not necessarily a condition, although it would include certain conditions as well.
This has been an extremely helpful debate. There is much to attract in what noble Lords have said. The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, referred to bank branch closures, which are an important aspect of the debate. While the Government do not intervene in such decisions, as noble Lords will know, they want to ensure the industry responds to changes in the way we bank, while making sure it caters for customers who still need access to a bank branch. We believe the impact on communities must be understood by the financial services industry, and considered and mitigated where possible. As the noble Viscount said, “isolation” brings another meaning of the word “vulnerable” into the overall term.
I have listened to noble Lords but I want to review, because I do not believe in any event the wording is quite right, nor the way in which it has been placed in the Bill. The body already has an objective to prioritise people most in need. Let us take this issue away, and review and consider it further. On that basis, I very much hope the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
I am most grateful to the Minister, particularly for those final phrases in her speech, and to all noble Lords who have spoken and contributed to an extremely rich debate. It has become evident that this is not just about vulnerable people, but about everybody who can find themselves in a vulnerable circumstance. There should be no stigmatisation of any sort; this could happen to anybody.
The Bill seems to be a good one, aiming to look after the whole population. Of course, it needs to look after people in bad times as well as good. That is the purpose of the amendment: to have better public outcomes, not just when capability can be increased, but when it cannot be, with services then adapting to meet the needs of the people they are there for. That is what a community is all about.
We can go away and look at the wording again, to think about whether it can go somewhere else or be adjusted slightly in the Bill, then come back at Third Reading.
I just want to press the point made by the noble Baroness about Third Reading. If we could come back to it at Third Reading, that would be good.
Through being able to come back at Third Reading, we have the assurance that we can tailor the Bill to try to get it absolutely right and to meet all the needs that have been outlined during this rich debate. Because of that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 11 withdrawn.
12: Clause 2, page 2, line 32, at end insert—
“( ) the awareness of scams and frauds relating to financial products,”
My Lords, the amendment revisits the now familiar theme of creating awareness of scams and fraud relating to financial products as part of the strategic function of the single financial guidance body.
Unfortunately, financial scams are many and varied. We have already heard about that matter, so I will be brief. People who perpetrate such scams 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 billion-plus. 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, 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. The FCA Financial Lives Survey 2017, already referred to by some, gives a fascinating insight into behaviours and the potential harm associated with some of them: 5.3 million UK adults have given a debit or credit card to someone else to use, shared account PIN numbers with another person or provided current account details by email or over the phone following an unsolicited approach; 23% of all UK adults have received unsolicited calls which could potentially be a scam; 8% of them received one or more requests to access a pension scheme before the age of 55 or the chance to unlock a pension early; and 6% were offered a chance to make a high-return investment or buy shares in a company. The survey shows that a smaller proportion of people responded to such offers, but we should be mindful that a small percentage of a big number means many individuals affected.
Citizens Advice report that last year, it helped consumers with a scam or fraud every 17 minutes, with pension scams moving up the table. It recites that pension scams are most frequently initiated by unsolicited telephone calls. The detriment is not only to individuals but to the level of trust that exists in the wider pension scheme. The Government have previously pointed out that the SFGB would have the power, as currently proposed, to focus on awareness of scams and fraud under its money guidance function and the financial capability element of the strategic function. However, we would urge the Government to be more specific. We know from our earlier debate that the SFGB will not be operational for a while. Perhaps the Minister can say what is proposed for and will happen in the interim.
We have heard that the Government have committed to ban cold calling over a wide scope of pension issues, but have been reluctant, notwithstanding the earlier vote, to clarify the legislative programme. In the meantime, the scams and fraud will go on. What is to be done? I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for tabling the amendment. I think we can all agree that raising people’s awareness of fraud and scams relating to financial products is an important matter, and one where the single financial body can, and should, play a role.
All the existing services—the Money Advice Service, the Pensions Advisory Service and Pension Wise—provide information and guidance about fraud and scams and take their role in that seriously. The Pensions Advisory Service—TPAS—has several regularly updated webpages dedicated to pension scams awareness. These provide clear and simple messages warning people to be vigilant and include more detailed information and guidance on, for example, how to spot a scam, how to protect your pension from scams and what to do if you think you have been, or are being, scammed. In addition, TPAS supports a dedicated “identifying a pension scam” tool on its website. It also suggests that people check with it first before proceeding, including by telephone.
Similarly, Pension Wise provides information on its webpages and guidance as part of its telephone and face-to-face sessions on how to avoid a pension scam. This includes information on language commonly used by scammers, copycat websites, bank details scams and how to protect yourself.
The Money Advice Service—MAS—provides broader information on scams that try to make people part with their money. Its website contains information covering not only pensions but identity fraud, computer software service frauds, phishing, telephone fraud and vishing, boiler rooms and advance fee fraud. MAS updates this information as new scams come to light.
All the existing services signpost to organisations—for example, Action Fraud, the Financial Services Register and the Financial Conduct Authority—that can help people who think they may have been a victim of a scam.
The messages given out by the existing services are straightforward: scammers can contact people over the phone, by email or by text, or might even show up on their doorstep. Scammers are clever, using flashy websites and marketing materials to lure people in. One should never be rushed into making a decision about pensions or savings; if an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
We fully expect the new body to continue this important role and to raise awareness of fraud and scams as part of both its money guidance and pensions guidance functions, and through observing its objectives. The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, would add the requirement to the body’s strategic function. It is an important point to make that the single financial guidance body cannot effectively raise awareness of fraud and scams on its own. Instead, raising awareness of fraud and scams should be one issue that the body develops and progresses through its national strategy in co-operation with others in the financial services industry—including pension providers —the devolved authorities and the public and voluntary sectors.
Scams affect people no matter their age, location or levels of saving, and scammers are becoming ever more sophisticated, so people need to know what to look out for. The body and its strategic partners need to work together to find ways to improve people’s awareness of scams and how together they can address them. However, this matter can already be addressed by the strategic function. It is unnecessary to add to the existing elements of the national strategy, as it cuts across all three and in particular forms part of improving the financial capability of members of the public.
The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, asked what is happening now given that it will take time for the body to come to fruition. I hope that I laid out in responding to the amendment all that is being done at the moment. One reason for our not even naming the body yet is that we want to avoid it being scammed and copied by somebody else. I trust that the noble Lord is reassured that all is being done that can be done and that the body with its strategic partners will take seriously the matter of raising awareness of fraud and scams. I urge him to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful for the very full explanation that the Minister has given to the point that I raised. It is a very serious issue that is accelerating in its importance. Notwithstanding the work that is going on and is planned, which I acknowledge, I think that the matter is of such significance that it should be specifically mentioned in the Bill. It may seem a little churlish, but I would like to test the opinion of the House.
24 October 2017
Division on Amendment 12
Amendment 12 disagreed.View Details
Consideration on Report adjourned until not before 8 pm.