Wonga Loan Book

Oral Answers to Questions — Church Commissioners – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th October 2018.

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Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Chair, Work and Pensions Committee, Chair, Work and Pensions Committee 12:00 am, 18th October 2018

To ask the right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, what progress the Church of England has made on bringing together organisations and people of good will to buy the Wonga loan book.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman The Second Church Estates Commissioner

I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for his extensive work on this issue. The Archbishop of Canterbury has been in discussions with the charity and finance sectors about how to minimise the potential harm to Wonga’s former customers who are unable to pay back their loans. We are hopeful that debt collection best practice will be applied in recovering any outstanding debts.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Chair, Work and Pensions Committee, Chair, Work and Pensions Committee

I thank the right hon. Lady for that reply. With reference to the written answer she gave me about how the commissioners are using their huge portfolio of funds to push firms in the right direction, does she accept that the list of firms whose annual general meetings the commissioners turned up at to push social justice was short and rather disappointing? Will she meet with me urgently to see how that programme can be extended?

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman The Second Church Estates Commissioner

I am happy to meet with the right hon. Gentleman, and I would have been delighted to discuss his idea about the Wonga loan book before it was in the public domain. The Church of England paid close attention to his proposal and took the view that others are better placed to take the matter forward. However, going to AGMs is not the only intervention that Church Commissioners can make when trying to influence business and corporate policy in an ethical direction. That can also be done in writing and meetings do take place with a large number of companies.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

To reduce future reliance on loan companies such as Wonga, what is the Church of England doing to encourage personal financial education in its schools?

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman The Second Church Estates Commissioner

That is a good question. We obviously want to try to prevent the sort of situation that has arisen for Wonga’s customers. The Church of England’s primary focus is on tackling indebtedness in three ways: teaching children about financial literacy through the Just Finance Foundation, working to increase access to responsible credit, and supporting organisations such as Christians Against Poverty, which provides advice and debt counselling.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

What else can be done to get more Church of England investment into ethical businesses? Could the Church play a hands-on role in assisting ethical businesses in some of our most disadvantaged communities?

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman The Second Church Estates Commissioner

The Church Commissioners are advised by the ethical investment advisory group and a very clear direction is given to asset managers about the sectors of the economy that the Church will not invest in on ethical grounds—for example, pornography and tobacco. The Church has recently played very close attention to the practice of the extractive industries and has had not a little success through its shareholder engagement in getting companies involved to change their policy towards tackling climate change.