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Part of Bank of England and Financial Services Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 7:45 pm on 15th December 2015.

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Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 7:45 pm, 15th December 2015

My Lords, I will speak briefly to Amendment 25. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, for his courtesy in organising a meeting with officials and for his helpful letter of 14 December. Having said that, I am bound to say that it is not helpful to receive the Government’s response to their consultation on the secondary annuity market just this morning, particularly given that the consultation closed on 18 June—six months ago. This is simply not the way to make good legislation and I look to the Minister to undertake that we will have the opportunity to return to this matter at Third Reading, should our further examination of the government response identify issues which raise concerns.

Clause 27, together with Amendment 25, provides a broad framework for aspects of the secondary annuity market, but much is left to regulation: relevant annuities, relevant interests, exempt persons, criteria determining the proportion of a person’s financial resources and appropriate advice. Yet more will be dealt with via FCA rules, although I understand that this will be subject to consultation in 2016. We are clearly not going to be able to see even draft regulations by the time the Bill leaves this House, and although the government consultation response fills in some of the blanks, there is still much that is unknown. My noble friend Lady Drake has pressed the recommendation that at least the regulations concerning exempt persons should require the affirmative procedure, as recommended by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Like my noble friend I would press that matter on the Minister and hope that he will respond positively.

If there is to be a secondary market in annuities, we agree that as well as extending Pension Wise to provide free and impartial guidance to those with a relevant interest in an annuity there should be a requirement to seek financial advice before such annuities can be sold. A particular bone of contention is the protection of dependants and beneficiaries, an issue which, as my noble friend said, impacts disproportionately on women. Although this is acknowledged in the government response, they are simply asking the FCA to consider whether a requirement could be placed on the annuity provider to ensure the dependant or beneficiary of an annuity has consented to an assignment and to consider further rules for consumers with vulnerable characteristics. The Government are also passing to the FCA consideration of the challenges arising from their being unnamed beneficiaries. It will be important for there to be clarity on these matters by April 2017. What will happen if there is not?

It appears that the Government are not going to prohibit the assignment of an annuity for those on means-tested benefits, as my noble friend said, or for those meeting social care costs, but will look to changing guidance to help people understand the deprivation of income and capital rules. Perhaps the Minister might say more, given the complexity of these issues, about how robust this consumer protection will be.

It would seem that the secondary market will not be without its complications: there will be individual annuity holders; there may be beneficiaries and dependants; there will be purchasers of rights of an annuity under a specific regulated activity; there will be a further regulated activity for providers buying back annuities; there will be regulated intermediaries; there will be IFAs providing mandatory regulated advice; and there will be authorised entities to check that holders of a relevant annuity have received appropriate financial advice. Given this plethora of parties, how confident is the Minister that conflicts of interest can in practice be avoided? Where are the costs of all of this going to fall? Who, in particular, is going to meet the costs of an authorised entity checking to see that appropriate financial advice has been received? These arrangements also of course mean that the annuity providers will be under no obligation to permit assignment of annuity payments in the first place.

The Government appear, again as my noble friend said, to have changed their mind on allowing providers to buy back their annuities through intermediaries. Can the Minister say more about how the originally perceived consumer detriment of this is to be managed? The Government do not seem to have resolved some of the basic operational issues. What is their current position on maintaining a central death register?

The Government will not restrict any entities from purchasing on the tertiary market, nor do they seem minded to place restrictions on buyers’ abilities to reassign annuities once purchased. However, they are looking at preventing UK retail investors from purchasing rights under annuities that are reassigned on the tertiary market, to protect them from a complex financial product. We would agree with that approach. It seems that the prospect of securitisation or unbundling in the tertiary market leaves scope for the tax planners.

The consultation response states that the Government want the secondary market for annuities to be fair, simple to understand, cost effective and operationally deliverable. It is clearly a long way from that. There are a host of issues still to settle but none more important than the protection of consumers. All of this is in circumstances where the Government expect that, for most annuity holders, continuing to hold the annuity income will be the right decision. I am not sure where this will all end up but we will not, for the time being, oppose this amendment.