Breathing Space Scheme: Consultation Response - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:46 pm on 19th June 2019.

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Photo of Lord Young of Cookham Lord Young of Cookham Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 3:46 pm, 19th June 2019

I thank both noble Lords for their generous welcome to the announcement, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson. I remember the forceful case he made during the passage of the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill, drawing on his experience in StepChange, which drew on research showing that schemes such as this stop people getting into a cycle of debt and end up with the creditors getting more than they would, had such a scheme not been available. As the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, said, his amendments to the Bill enable us to make progress. As he said, I was a co-pilot with my noble friend Lord Freud on the Bill—the two intellectuals Freud and Young took that Bill through the House.

I take the point from the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, about 60 days possibly being not long enough. He will know that that is more than the six weeks pledged in our manifesto and more than the six weeks available in Scotland. We believe we have that right. I agree entirely with what he said about the Insolvency Service’s register being private and not public. I take his point, which was also made by the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, about trying to speed things up.

I take the point that the 9% top slice that the agencies will get is less than the 13% currently available, but by contrast this is guaranteed in a way the 13% might not be. Also, we believe it will be on a much broader base. Of course we will keep the revenue stream under regular review, but we think we have it about right.

On loans, the FCA has announced a tough new package of measures on high-cost credit. It has the powers to introduce caps, but perhaps I can make more inquiries about that specific point. I have no hesitation in agreeing to a meeting with the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, which I welcome. Perhaps it would make sense to involve the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, who has prime policy responsibility for the subject matter.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, for his welcome of the scheme. The once-only ability to go into the breathing space does not apply to those with mental health problems. We wanted the first time to have a sustainable, long-term solution to the debt problems and there was an anxiety about the possibility of abuse if people could go on applying. We will look at that. He has a valid point about joint debts. Likewise, often a small trader’s personal finances are inextricably involved with the business. It makes sense to have eligibility for small traders up to the VAT limit.

On universal credit, any overpayments will be stopped immediately, although there is an IT issue that prevents the same process being applied to other payments. Perhaps I could write to the noble Lord, but the objective is to address those IT problems as soon as possible.

Finally, the noble Lord mentioned the timetable. This was raised in the other place. He might have followed the exchanges. The Economic Secretary said that he had had discussions with his officials to try to drive the timetable through as quickly as possible. There are some IT issues about making sure the public sector interface with the Insolvency Service can react to people entering and leaving the breathing space. We want to get it right, but I will certainly tell the Economic Secretary that both noble Lords expressed anxiety about the timetable and asked whether it could possibly be accelerated.