Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL] - Report (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 24th October 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 5:00 pm, 24th October 2017

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.