Clause 44 - Commencement

Part of Pension Schemes Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 4th November 2014.

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Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions 10:45 am, 4th November 2014

This has been a thoughtful and constructive discussion. It is good to be freed from the shackles of explaining what proposed new section 333L and so on  mean, so that I can discuss the substance of the important issues raised. I will start with the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, who listed nine questions but I counted them as he spoke and I think he should have said “Twenty-seventhly” at the end. However, I will try to address his points as best I can. I agree with him that these are complex decisions. Some people, particularly those with a decent pension pot, may have many choices and thanks to the Budget may have choices that they did not before, which is why guidance and, where appropriate, regulated financial advice will be important; I will not demur.

However, the hon. Gentleman said that there has been confusion since the Budget. We were criticised on Budget day for being decisive, and asked why there was no consultation. There was no consultation because we decided that something was right, said so, and consulted for three months, which is the proper length for a decent consultation. Of course, throughout the consultation people said, “Tell us what’s going to happen. We need to know.” We told them that we were consulting, and that then we would think about what people said and make decisions. Although the Government are consulting—listening, thinking and evolving the practicalities of a decision—in principle it is easy to say that there is terrible uncertainty. There is not. The new freedoms cannot be accessed until next April and, quite properly, we are taking time to listen to the feedback and refine the proposition.

We are undertaking ongoing research, and talking to people in the target market, providers and TPAS. We are refining what we are doing and testing different approaches to see what works, so there is an awful lot of ongoing work. There is a clamour for, “Give us the figures. Tell us how many people—what will the take-up be? What will it cost?” Our estimates are being refined as we proceed, quite properly. For example, a few months ago we did not have in place the guidance providers referred to in new schedule 2, but now we do. We are working with them and talking to them about the people they deal with. This is an ongoing process of refinement, which is why there are no hard figures. By the end of the year, we will publish an update—updated estimates and a progress report—which will be of interest to the Committee.

The hon. Gentleman said that there would be a multiplicity of new products. Although I am repeatedly advised not to make forecasts, I would be surprised if April looks radically different in terms of products. Providers are thinking about the measures now and will modify existing products, but I have heard the phrase “a decade of innovation”, which probably better captures the spirit of where we are heading. For providers, getting their systems in place just to cope with the changes we have made will be an issue. Over time, they will look at how the market develops and develop new products, but I do not think there will a massive sea change. Draw-down products already exist, and one could imagine that they will be refined. I think that the development of products will be more evolutionary, but I am only speculating on the basis of previous conversations.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of there being multiple channels such as face to face, over the phone and the internet. My answer is, “Why wouldn’t you?” People like to consume their guidance in different ways. There is a set of people who are comfortable with the  internet and do everything on the web. That is what they expect, so we want a quality website in place. There is a set of people who want or need to do things on the phone, such as housebound people, people in remote rural areas, and those who do not particularly want to talk to a stranger in a strange place and would rather get guidance sitting on the sofa with a mug of tea and all their paperwork beside them, so we are offering a phone option as well as face to face, as the Chancellor promised. There is no real problem with that.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that all three channels need to be credible. The standards will apply to all of them and we will be seeking consistency. He overplays the issue of someone having a guidance phone call who then tries to see someone face to face or go on the internet. Everything will be branded. I cannot reveal the brand today but there will be a brand and a logo, which will be on all the correspondence. It will be apparent and will be accompanied by awareness raising and publicising that this is the Government’s guidance guarantee. There will be consistent branding, messaging and standards across all the different channels.