regulation of Claims Management Services: Transfer Schemes

Part of Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 6:08 pm on 24 April 2018.

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Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 6:08, 24 April 2018

I do indeed. We need to have bodies that have teeth, that are able to do this and that we can have faith in. My hon. Friend makes a very good point.

The Bill has delivered on what we said it would, but it now does so much more. The inclusion of a ban on pensions cold-calling, the commitment to introduce a debt respite scheme and the ban on claims management companies cold-calling, as well as the amendment on pensions guidance, all strengthen the Bill. I welcome and appreciate the collaborative spirit that the Bill has engendered across both Houses and the hard work that officials have done. There has been a broad consensus. That is positive, and it has helped so many people in so many different ways.

In the other place, we listened carefully to the thoughtful of views of those who engaged in the debates. We appreciate, in particular, the input of Lord Stevenson, Lord McKenzie, Lord Sharkey, Baroness Drake, Baroness Kramer and others who have helped us to craft the clauses on debt respite, cold-calling, pensions guidance and consumer protection. There were some very constructive and helpful debates on other issues that helped us to ensure that the FCA will have regard to the needs of consumers when setting the single financial guidance body’s standards, to strengthen offences on impersonating the new body, to extend the claims management provisions to Scotland and—thanks to the tireless work of Baroness Meacher—to introduce an interim fee cap in respect of PPI claims. To quote Lord McKenzie on Third Reading:

“These changes have come about because, broadly, we have had a shared analysis of what the Bill could achieve”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 November 2017; Vol. 787, c. 106.]

There have been many positive contributions in this House as well. We heard some excellent speeches on Second Reading from Members on both sides of the House. I remember, for example, the powerful speech by my hon. Friend Michelle Donelan about debt arguably being one of the biggest challenges to social mobility and, as Conservative Members particularly support social mobility, how important it is to be able to give this financial support. I still recall the very strong contributions from Yvonne Fovargue on the proposed debt respite scheme and from my hon. Friend Mrs Latham, who recounted the hardships faced by her constituents.

We have listened to what hon. Members said in respect of pensions cold-calling and default pensions guidance. I would like to put on record again our thanks to the Work and Pensions Committee for its report highlighting some of these issues. I thank the Select Committee, peers and hon. Members in this House for the way in which all sides have worked collaboratively and constructively on these issues. We have been able to accept a number of the Committee’s recommendations. I am sure that all hon. Members will agree that, with its help, we have made huge progress in these areas. I look forward to continuing co-operation when we bring forward regulations on these matters later this year.

We have also listened to what was said in respect of cold-calling from claims management companies. In Committee, we tabled amendments to ban cold-calling in relation to claims management services unless prior consent has been given. This honours a commitment that we made in the other place. We believe that these changes—along with our commitment to keep under review, and potentially ban, other areas of unsolicited direct marketing in relation to consumer financial products —demonstrate our commitment to tackling unsolicited marketing calls. The Information Commissioner’s Office, which enforces restrictions on unsolicited electronic direct mailing, has the power to fine offenders up to £500,000. In 2017, the ICO issued 29 civil monetary penalties totalling £2.83 million.

In Committee, we also tabled amendments to the claims management clauses. We are now placing a duty on the Law Society of England and Wales to cap fees in relation to financial services claims management activity, as well as introducing a power for the Law Society of Scotland to restrict fee charges for this activity, to ensure that consumers are protected no matter which type of claims management service provider they use, whether it is regulated by the legal service regulators or by the FCA.

This Bill deals with important and fundamental issues not just to this House but to the many hundreds of thousands of people who will benefit from the services of a new single financial guidance body—particularly those who are struggling with debt.

I am pleased to be able to confirm again today for Luciana Berger, Norman Lamb and my hon. Friend Johnny Mercer that the Government recognise the importance of providing a suitable mechanism to access breathing space for people experiencing a mental health crisis. We understand that people in the midst of a mental health crisis are likely to be too unwell to access the breathing space scheme through a regulated debt advice provider. We commit to ensure that people receiving NHS treatment for a mental health crisis, in either a psychiatric in-patient setting or the community, are provided with a suitable alternative mechanism to access the breathing space scheme and benefit from the protections it will provide. That provision will be developed concurrently with the main breathing space scheme.

In respect of claims management companies, the Bill sends out a clear message that we are on the side of the public, providing a stronger framework to ensure that individuals are accountable for the actions of their businesses. While recognising that many claims management companies do good work to support people to claim compensation, we have sent a clear message that we will tackle malpractice where it exists, such as nuisance calls and the encouragement of fraudulent claims. I commend the Bill to the House.