I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention—and I shall have more specific thanks to give him a little later in my speech. I completely agree with the points that he has made. I know that the Government intend to introduce legislation relating to economic crime and impropriety during the current Session, and I hope the Minister can confirm that it is something they are seriously considering.
I was particularly happy to note the FCA’s clear focus on consumer protections, and I fully agree with their approach in wishing to ensure that customers pay a fair price, that the plan meets their needs, that the money is looked after responsibly, and that they have all the information they need in order to make an informed decision. Unfortunately, however, that announcement is just too little, too late for many of Safe Hands’ customers.
Let me provide some context by explaining the way in which Safe Hands worked. Customers’ money was put into a trust and then reinvested. These funds are supposed to protect customer investments, and, indeed, that is how the plan was sold to my constituent Mr Hughes. The trust should have been overseen by independent trustees whose job is to make sure that funds are not misappropriated, and are ring-fenced from the funeral provider’s business assets. When Safe Hands suddenly left the market after withdrawing its application to be an approved seller under the upcoming FCA rules, administrators found a significant shortfall between the value of this trust and the cost of the funeral plans that it would need to finance.
Apparently, what the administrators found was that the trust’s assets had been wildly overvalued. What was even more concerning was that most of the assets were actually owned by third parties, as was mentioned by my hon. Friend Peter Grant. Reports indicate that over £60 million of the trust’s reported £64 million valued assets were high-risk investments based offshore. If that is true, we are talking about fraudulent misappropriation of the trust’s assets. I will refrain from speculating on who might have benefited from all of this, which can only be described as a scam.