Amendment 16

Part of Financial Services Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 14th April 2021.

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Photo of Viscount Trenchard Viscount Trenchard Conservative 5:00 pm, 14th April 2021

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, spoke powerfully in favour of her similar Amendment 136F in Committee on 3 March. The noble Baroness has now brought forward Amendment 16 with the same purpose. It is supported by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, my noble friend Lady Morgan of Cotes and my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans. I support all their arguments.

There is a weight of evidence of unreasonably aggressive behaviour by enforcement agents even before the onset of the pandemic. Your Lordships should be pleased that the Ministry of Justice launched a call for evidence as part of its second review of the reforms introduced by the Taking Control of Goods (Fees) Regulations 2014. It is understandable that that review is taking longer than expected in current circumstances. My noble friend Lord True explained that resources had to be moved to bring about the passage of the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act, which was intended to help businesses survive the lockdowns. I would be interested to hear from my noble friend the Minister whether the Act is working as the Government intended, and how many companies have successfully applied for moratoria under the Act.

As the noble Baroness explained, her amendment allows the FCA to outsource the powers it would assume under this amendment to another unspecified person or body. I think this is far from satisfactory, and that the FCA should not be burdened with responsibilities in this area. The FCA is going to be busy enough with its new regulatory responsibilities and with what will rightly be an onerous system of oversight by your Lordships’ House and another place.

The FCA is not the right regulator to become involved with issues relating to non-payment of utility bills, for example. I am surprised that the noble Baroness is apparently unwilling to accept the assurance of my noble friend that the Government’s response to the review of bailiff regulation will be issued within this year. I expect that the Government will recognise that something needs to be done to control overaggressive behaviour by bailiffs, balancing such control against the need to retain an effective enforcement process. In view of my noble friend’s assurance, I am unable to support this amendment.

However, the FCA is the right regulator to protect potential customers of regulated financial services firms as well as contracted customers. Every contracted customer is a potential customer before entering into a contract to purchase supplies from a supplier, or to purchase services from a supplier, and thereby becoming an actual customer. I therefore support Amendment 26 in the name my noble friends Lord Leigh of Hurley and Lady Altmann.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans has made a powerful case for his Amendment 27, requiring debit and credit card providers to offer an opt-in option for gambling blockers. Research by GambleAware published in July 2020 found that only eight financial services firms offered blockers on certain products and ranges, estimated to cover 60% of personal current accounts. The research also examined the effectiveness of blockers currently available and found that they needed to be improved. Of the eight banks that offered blockers, three banks’ blockers could be immediately turned on and off, meaning that they functioned more like a light switch than a lock. I would like to ask my noble friend the Minister whether he agrees with GambleAware’s recommendation that the FCA, in its guidance, should require banks to include gambling blockers as standard on debit and credit cards.

The FCA already recognises that all banks’ customers are capable of becoming vulnerable, but it does not recognise that those with a gambling addiction are included in the categories it already recognises, such as those who have a cognitive impairment, low resilience to financial shocks or poor numeracy skills. It is of course very difficult to define what is a gambling addiction, and it also begs the question of how far we want the state to go in protecting us from all the risks we may encounter in our lives. However, the right reverend Prelate’s amendment calls for an opt-in option and therefore has some merit. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s views.

As for Amendment 37C, in the names of my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham and the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, I understand that the Government have announced that they will set up a working group to consider what they can do in future to make the process easier for families who need to apply to the Court of Protection to access a child trust fund or junior ISA. My noble friend Lady Altmann also claimed convincingly that something needs to be done, as did the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett.

The objective of the amendment seems sensible, and I am well aware that to go to the Court of Protection is cumbersome, time-consuming and expensive. However, I rather doubt that this Bill is the right place for this measure. I do not see that the FCA can be given any responsibility or power in this connection. I do agree that £5,000 in any year is a sensible amount, below which it should not be obligatory to apply to the court. If my noble friend the Minister considers that the Bill is not the right place for this, could he tell the House what the Government will be able to do to find a solution to this difficult problem?