Examination of Witnesses

Part of Savings (Government Contributions) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:27 pm on 25th October 2016.

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Martin Lewis:

I do not think there is now, because the products are not out there. The truth is that it is mainly people in this room and the industry, and a few nerds like me, who will be interested in them before they launch—why would you be? Once they launch, we need to get it right. For my TV show, next February, I have already got a lifetime ISA special booked in; it will probably be the second or third week of February—half an hour of prime time on ITV—and we will get the message out, because people need to understand how it works. We will get that out, but that communication needs to be right and consistent; the messaging needs to be right.

My concern is about product-provider level, where product providers and different people within businesses have incentives to sell products. Even in wonderful building societies, the savings managers do not ask their customers whether they have debts before they encourage them to save. Will you do it as a blanket? That is not the right way for anybody to go.

As we are starting two new products, we have a very interesting point where you can set up the regulation before we start to make it proactive, which is what I am encouraging. With Help to Save, the message is: “If you save £50 a month, after a couple of years, we will give you 50% on top.” Yes, I know there are complexities about exactly how much you have saved and whether you can take it out, but that is all you really need to know. For the lifetime ISA, it is: “You can save up to £4,000 a year. You have to be under 40 when you start it. Then you can use it towards a house, in which case we will give you the bonus then, or at the age of 60, when we will give you the 25% on top, with a maximum bonus. If you have ifs and buts, do your reading—but do your reading.” Those are all the messages that you need to get people interested in it.

These two products have a very simple advantage: it is called free money. Go and have a look at the green deal. Until the cashback section came in, no one was interested in the green deal. Once you started giving people free money, suddenly it became very popular. Well, you have two free money schemes. Done right, talked about right and communicated right, they will be very popular. Unintended consequences are possible—the lifetime ISA might pump the housing market, which is a concern, and we have already seen it somewhat with Help to Buy—but done right, this is free money for people. As for looking at this at a macroeconomic level—are we skewing it? Are we giving it to the wrong people? Does it have the right political consequences?—that is not necessarily my bag, but I have some concerns over it. However, if you are talking about whether you can communicate these products in such a way that people will take them up, free money does a pretty good job of getting people interested.