Objectives

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:45 am on 1st February 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mhairi Black Mhairi Black Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Pensions), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Youth affairs) 11:45 am, 1st February 2018

I beg to move amendment 37, in clause 2, page 2, line 19, leave out from “accordingly” to end of line 20 and insert—

“(da) to ensure the needs of people in vulnerable circumstances, including but not exclusively—

(i) those who suffer long-term sickness or disability,

(ii) carers,

(iii) those on low incomes, and

(iv) recipients of benefits, are met and that resources are allocated in such a way as to allow specially trained advisers and guidance to be made available to them.”

This amendment would require that specially trained advisers and guidance are made available to people in vulnerable circumstances and would provide an indicative list of what vulnerable circumstances might include.

The amendment came about because we were chuffed, when reading the Bill, to see that there was a mention of vulnerable people, especially given the nature of pensions and how much is at stake with them, but to be honest we felt that the wording was a little weak. I would like the wording tightened up to ensure that it is clear and means what I think it does. That is why we have suggested what we consider “vulnerable people” to mean, and it will be good to see whether the Government are happy to accept that.

We want to make sure that the new body is as accessible as possible for all people, regardless of their circumstances. Specially trained advisers and resources should make up part of that new body, so that people can have confidence and the ability to make the right decisions. I do not think that the amendment is that contentious; it just tidies up the Government’s wording.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

I rise to support the proposition. We will deal with the issues of vulnerability and disability later in the Bill, but although it is true that not everyone who needs urgent and independent advice is necessarily in circumstances of vulnerability, the nature of the world of work and of the economy means that a lot of people’s backs are against the wall, especially after the high-profile collapses of late. We should make explicit what is implicit: the new body should proceed in the right way. I hope the Minister will give the assurance that everyone who turns to it will receive high-quality independent advice. A specific focus on support for the vulnerable is a legitimate objective.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I am keen to give assurance on that specific point. If the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South will allow me, I will walk her through how we got to the situation where the Government chose to amend the Bill to add in the vulnerable circumstances clause that is the basis for her amendment. The Government take the view that the amendment is not necessary in the circumstances, and I will explain why.

The body’s activity towards the people who are most in need and in vulnerable circumstances has been the priority of all parties since the creation of the Bill. Vulnerable circumstances were not originally spelt out, but they were certainly spelt out on Second Reading in the House of Lords. There was extensive debate in the House of Lords on a cross-party basis with representations by Baroness Finlay, Baroness Coussins, Baroness Hollins and the Labour Lord, Lord McKenzie, about the need for clarity on access to financial guidance and awareness of financial services for people who find themselves in vulnerable circumstances.

The Government decided in the other place to state explicitly in clause 2(1)(d) that the body’s objectives include the need to support people in “vulnerable circumstances” when exercising its functions. An amendment was introduced to strengthen the objectives to ensure that the body’s

“information, guidance and advice is available to those most in need…bearing in mind in particular the needs of people in vulnerable circumstances”.

The Government’s amendment has created a statutory framework that will give clear direction to the new body to support people in those circumstances. That means that the body will be required to focus its efforts and resources on that area, and will look at the best ways to provide guidance to vulnerable people in different places.

A general principle of the Bill, which I will expand on in relation to this and other points, is that there is a danger of being overly prescriptive to a body that one is setting up with the specific purpose that it has the latitude to exercise the appropriate commissioning and employment of charities and organisations in particular places. Asking the body to have a generality of specially trained advisers and guidance risks being too prescriptive in the Bill. We want to ensure that the body has the latitude to take advantage of its expertise to find the best interventions and the best channels to address the needs of people in vulnerable circumstances now and in the future. That is not to say that the body itself may not choose to do exactly what the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South has fairly set out, but that is for the body to do under the circumstances that it sees fit.

The risk outlined on Second Reading—I can see that I will have to refer to the hon. Member for Makerfield on several occasions—was the danger of duplication. Whether or not one feels that the Government or individual local authorities are providing appropriate services, other services are being provided, whether that is universal support or the visiting service, that support claimants with a face-to-face service and by offering to manage their claims. There is a duplication risk, which was the specific problem of the Money Advice Service in the past.

The general point is that we believe that it is wrong to be too prescriptive and to predefine a whole series of obligations, functions and capabilities of this organisation. That does not mean that we will not have a discussion going forward, nor that the body will not address these specific points, but I do not want to predefine and subdivide every single part. It should be left to the body to make those decisions as it goes forward. That does not in any way diminish the need for these things to be addressed, but I would not want that in the Bill. It is for the body, when it is fully formed, to address those points. In the circumstances, I invite the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South to withdraw the amendment, having taken due note of the assurances that I have given.

Photo of Mhairi Black Mhairi Black Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Pensions), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Youth affairs) 12:00 pm, 1st February 2018

I appreciate what the Minister says, but it is strange to say that the amendment is too prescriptive after talking about how important it is that the Bill has cross-party support and saying that it is about trying to bring about genuine change. I do not see what is contentious about fleshing out what vulnerable people means. The only downside that I can see to having the amendment in the Bill is the possibility of helping too many people. I appreciate that the Minister says that it is up to the body to decide, but that is where we will have to disagree, because I think that the purpose of the Bill is to ensure that people do not fall through the cracks anymore, so I would not be comfortable withdrawing the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 1, Noes 9.

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

I beg to move amendment 24, in clause 2, page 2, line 32, at end insert—

“(4) In the case of members of the public who are self-employed “information, guidance and advice” also includes information and advice on business-related debt, in addition to personal debt.”

This amendment would extend the single financial guidance body’s remit to advise the self-employed on business finances and debts.

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 25, in clause 2, page 2, line 32, at end insert—

“(4) In the case of members of the public who are self-employed—

(a) “financial matters” also includes information and advice on business-related debt, in addition to personal debt”, and

(b) “financial affairs” includes business-related financial affairs, in addition to personal financial affairs.”

This amendment would extend the single financial guidance body’s remit to advise the self-employed on business finances and debts.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

Although self-employed people will be able to access the help of the new body for their personal finances, they will not be able to use it for their business finances. We have listened very carefully to the voice of the self-employed—on one hand organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses, and on the other hand people I have spoken to in my own constituency, including taxi drivers and construction workers who are self-employed and, indeed, an individual who ran a fruit and veg shop in Erdington High Street and got into financial difficulties.

I have seen how self-employed people badly need advice and guidance, and there is all too often an overlap between their personal advice and guidance and that for the business in which they are engaged. That is why we say that evidence shows that, for the self-employed, the line between personal and business finances is usually blurred and can be very difficult to manage, particularly for those just setting out as self-employed people. The number of self-employed people is higher than ever before in our economy, so they need to be able to rely on the new body for advice and guidance when they need it.

Figures released last year suggest that the number of self-employed workers in the United Kingdom rose by 23%—from 3.8 million to 4.7 million—between 2007 and 2017. That represents a shift in the nature of the world of work and the way the British economy is working. Self-employed people now represent about 15% of the workforce, and 91% of businesses say they hire contractors. The majority of self-employed people are sole traders, and there is no legal distinction between them as individuals and as businesses. There were 3.4 million sole traders in 2017. The biggest increase in self-employed people was among women.

Although self-employment is a positive choice for most, there is a real problem with the conscription of some into reluctant self-employment. Either way, the average earnings of the self-employed are significantly lower than those of the employed. The figures vary—I would be the first to acknowledge that—but there has been growth in self-employment in higher-skilled, higher-paying areas, such as advertising, public administration and banking. Although some workers enjoy greater flexibility and control over their working patterns, self-employment can nevertheless have a negative impact on their access to finance.

As self-employment has increased, so has demand for advice about business-related debts. Last year, 36,421 people were helped by the business debt line run by the national charity the Money Advice Trust, which does outstanding work and gave us very good advice and guidance about the Bill. Demand for the debt line has increased from 24,000 in 2016 to 36,421. The Money Advice Trust says, and I think it is right, that it expects the rise in demand to continue.

The amendments would ensure that the SFGB provided self-employed people with information, advice and guidance about their business-related, not just their personal, debt and finances, with a focus on those who are most in need, in line with the body’s wider objectives. The amendments would apply to its debt advice and money guidance functions. As Lord Haskel said in the other place,

“the work of the SFGB should include the self-employed and micro-businesses, particularly at a time when the line between company employment and self-employment is becoming very blurred.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 July 2017; Vol. 783, c. 933.]

Personal and business finances are closely intertwined for many self-employed people. Some 48% of self-employed people use a only personal current account for their business, and a further 17% use both a personal and a business account, according to the Financial Conduct Authority’s “Financial Lives” survey in 2017. The Money Advice Trust report, “The cost of doing business”, which is based on extended interviews with business debt line clients, found that almost seven in 10 of those who had taken out a personal loan were using it to prop up their business. Research by the University of Bristol’s personal finance research centre identified two key areas of overlap between business and personal finances: first, general living expenses, especially for those who live on their business premises; and, secondly, the use of personal credit to manage cash flow where necessary. Given the intertwining of business and personal finances for many self-employed people, if the SFGB does not offer information, advice and guidance on both, it will not be able to provide that growing section of the population with the support it needs.

I very much hope that the Minister will respond constructively to what we are saying and look at what might happen if the Government choose not to amend the Bill. I reserve my right to come back on that after hearing the Minister’s response.

Photo of Yvonne Fovargue Yvonne Fovargue Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I want to make a short contribution about how the finances of the self-employed are muddied with their personal finances. I had a meeting recently with Amigo Loans, a guarantor loan provider. It said that an increasing part of its business is loaning to people in a personal capacity, although they know it is for business purposes. Is that a business debt or a personal one? The fact that it does not look at the business plan might make it a personal debt, although I do think it ought to be looking at the business plan. Is it a personal debt or a business debt for the guarantor who guarantees the debt? In a lot of cases, it is fairly unclear where the line lies. To have a firm demarcation line where no business debts are dealt with is probably detrimental.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I am grateful to colleagues for making this point, and I recognise that it is not a simple issue. To pretend that the dividing line is absolutely precise and clear would be naive and wrong. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington and I discussed this issue yesterday. I will go away and consider the matter prior to Report and Third Reading. However, today I will oppose the amendment and I shall try to explain why. I will also explain why the Money Advice Service does not seek the change and answer some of the questions asked by the hon. Member for Makerfield.

The Money Advice Service provides a range of information and guidance, via webchat, telephone and online, specifically for the self-employed. That includes information and guidance on matters such as tax, national insurance, personal and business insurance, and guidance on the steps to consider when starting a new business. It also signposts to other free, impartial and expert services for self-employed people in respect of their business, including the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s business support helpline, the Money Advice Trust, which is funded and supported by the Government, and the comprehensive information on gov.uk.

Recognising the complex nature of a self-employed person’s finances, MAS also supports the provision of debt advice to self-employed people. This is a service that provides debt advice specifically for people who are self-employed. In relation to the Pensions Advisory Service and Pension Wise, pensions guidance is offered to everyone; those services are available to all, regardless of whether someone is self-employed.

When the single financial guidance body takes over the services, I see no reason why those services would not continue. There should be ongoing provision of that degree of support. We want the new body to continue the research and work that is already done by existing organisations, identify where there are gaps in financial guidance and debt advice provision, and look for ways to fill those gaps.

Through its strategic function, the body must develop a national strategy to improve the financial capability of members of the public and their ability to manage debt. To do that, it will work with a range of industry, charity, public sector and voluntary sector organisations to develop a strategy where they work together to address this problem and others in respect of people’s financial guidance and debt advice needs.

The single financial guidance body will not operate in a vacuum. As I alluded to earlier, there is online business advice, whether provided by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs or BEIS, and I would go further than that and give an example. The Start Up Loans Company helps people to get started in business. Self-evidently, it is funded by BEIS, and it works in partnership with the British Business Bank. It is a requirement of Start Up Loans Company finance partners to ensure that, as part of their service to the self-employed, they consider how someone could service any debts they have in respect of their business. They also do further signposting.

There is a risk, particularly in these circumstances and at this stage, that we may duplicate a pre-existing Government service, which the Money Advice Service and others have warned against in the past. I have asked what the Money Advice Service’s view is. I stress that I do not have a direct quote, but I have been told that its broad interpretation of the amendment is that it is unnecessary at this stage, as MAS already signposts and funds initiatives, and its commissioning strategy already identifies the self-employed as a priority. It does not favour the amendment, especially if it would mean straying into supporting businesses rather than lone traders.

Let me finish with two points. A self-employed person is personally liable for their business debts. However, where a self-employed person trades as a limited company, we get into the question of how microbusinesses are run. That goes back to the point I made to the hon. Member for Makerfield: it would be a danger if the single financial guidance body were seen as a panacea for all problems, and in these particular circumstances I am certain that it is not appropriate for it to become the adviser to microbusinesses. It simply does not have the capability, that is not its core specialism, and there are other organisations to which it can refer and signpost people.

I take entirely the legitimate point about the grey area that Citizens Advice and others see on a regular basis—we all see it, too, when a gentleman comes into a surgery with a sheaf of papers, plonks them on our desk and says, “Please solve that”—but I do not believe it is appropriate for the Government to shape the body in that way at this moment. I will discuss the issue further with the Money Advice Service, but for present purposes, I oppose the amendment.

Photo of Craig Mackinlay Craig Mackinlay Conservative, South Thanet 12:15 pm, 1st February 2018

On the question of what is a personal debt and what is a self-employment or business-type debt, if a self-employed person who is a sole trader—that is, unincorporated—takes on a loan for a van or something else, that by its very nature becomes a personal debt. That is the nature of being a sole trader. Complications may arise where that person, who to all other intents is self-employed, trades as a micro limited company. If, because of difficulties accessing credit through the limited company, that person decided to take a personal loan and then provide it as a director’s loan account to his or her own limited company, what status would that loan have? I imagine in law—

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that interventions should be brief and to the point. I am happy to call him if he wants to make a speech, but he must keep his interventions a good deal shorter than that.

Photo of Craig Mackinlay Craig Mackinlay Conservative, South Thanet

Thank you for that advice, Mr Stringer. This is of course a complicated area, which requires a little extra explanation. In that instance, the bank or credit provider would recognise that as a personal loan. I wonder whether that would be covered by the advice that may be available.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I recognise my hon. Friend’s expertise in such matters, and I thank him for his intervention. Support for self-employed people is covered by the Bill, because the self-employed are members of the public, in the way he outlined. Any personal business debt of a self-employed person is covered in respect of them being an individual member of the public.

I take my hon. Friend’s point about loans. I am delighted to say that I am not able to answer it right now, but I will definitely get back to him. In seriousness, we need to consider that point and work out whether there is any way of changing it and taking on board the views of the organisations that have practised in this area for some considerable time. I will certainly write to him with a specific answer and circulate that answer to all Committee members.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

The hon. Member for South Thanet is absolutely right, and his examples about the complexity we face are fascinating. The Minister’s response has been helpful. The new service is welcome; there is a degree of confusion about exactly what it can do for the self-employed, but that has already been substantially clarified. We recognise the complexity the hon. Gentleman summed up so well, so if the issue of business advice—if I can use that as a shorthand term—is not addressed effectively at this stage of the Bill, it will have to be addressed at another stage. Even if we cannot make progress in Committee, the Minister’s undertaking to engage in discussions will be warmly welcomed by organisations such as the Money Advice Trust and the Federation of Small Businesses.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

May I briefly clarify a point that I should have addressed in my response? I applaud the Money Advice Trust’s work, but in the briefing that it submitted to our Committee, it seeks broader business support, arguing that the single financial guidance body should address a host of other things and be available to small businesses more broadly—a mission creep that I would oppose. The MAT is a laudable charity and I respect entirely its good work, but that is a classic example of the mission creep that we want to avoid. Both the hon. Gentleman and I support the charity and its good works, but I believe that there is a limit to the assistance that the FSGB should give to that charity and its objectives.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

It is legitimate mission creep. What is good about our exchange is that we recognise that making progress with the issues identified by the MAT and the hon. Member for South Thanet may be difficult in Committee, but we can move forward at a later stage. The Minister’s point is absolutely right, but no one is suggesting that we should duplicate the functions of other bodies. If we can move forward at a later stage, jointly engaging with the organisations that represent the self-employed and those who advise them, it will be welcomed both by the organisations concerned and by the self-employed who need that advice and guidance. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Mhairi Black Mhairi Black Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Pensions), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Youth affairs)

I beg to move amendment 38, in clause 2, page 2, line 32, at end insert—

“(4) The single financial guidance body must, within three months of being established, define the following terms within the context of its objectives and functions—

(a) “information”,

(b) “guidance” and

(c) “advice”.”

This amendment would require the new body to define “information”, “guidance” and “advice” so that consumers are better able to understand which of the three would be most helpful to them.

With this it will be convenient to consider clause stand part.

Photo of Mhairi Black Mhairi Black Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Pensions), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Youth affairs)

The amendment is pretty straightforward and sensible. It would clarify the important differences between information, guidance and advice, which we know have a major impact on people’s decisions and how reliable they are if things go wrong. It is not often that parliamentarians admit ignorance, but before I became pensions spokesperson, I did not realise that there was any official difference between the three terms. I am a Member of Parliament and I have only recently found that out, so the Committee can imagine what it must be like for the general public. As long as the Government clarify the definitions of the three terms, I will be happy to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Yvonne Fovargue Yvonne Fovargue Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I support the hon. Lady’s request for definition of the terms, although I recognise that it is difficult not to stray into other areas. A further concern is that the information, guidance and advice need to be free and impartial. There are too many pensions providers that spend a lot of money—I heard of one spending £15 million—on ensuring their advice is compliant with all the FCA impartiality rules. As somebody said, if pension providers are spending £15 million on making their advice impartial, they must be expecting some return on their investment. That worries me—that people are gently steered towards a particular product if they go to a particular service.

I believe that some of the comparison websites that people use are not always impartial. If they take money for the top rankings, they are not providing a properly impartial service. People do not understand the differences between those comparison website that have paid-for rankings at the top and those that are completely impartial, based on objective criteria. Guidance on the types of investment can be different when it leads to a product sale, unlike when it is just helping a consumer through their options, completely free of any sales pitch.

Photo of Craig Tracey Craig Tracey Conservative, North Warwickshire

I declare an interest as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on insurance and financial services. I welcome the Bill in general, and from my conversations with the insurance industry I know that it is very supportive of the Bill and of the establishment of the single financial guidance body as great step forward to having access to guidance at relevant points in life. Because of the welcome pension freedoms, that guidance has become more essential than ever before.

There is good practice in the industry already—for example, Aviva insurance is running its MOT at 50 scheme, on which the preliminary feedback has been very positive. The results show that getting advice made people far more engaged with their finances and more likely to plan for their retirement, and many went on to seek regulated advice. The crucial point that Aviva made was that by delivering the MOT at 50, people had time to change their plans, think realistically about the future to meet their retirement objectives.

I want the Minister to give clarification on three points. First, what will the Bill provide for consumers? From the APPG’s and my perspective, it should look at providing financial resilience, promoting early intervention to prepare for life events, and raising awareness of the benefits of protection products, which are particularly helpful for the self-employed—things such as income protection, critical illness and life insurance. In my experience as a broker, people generally only took those when it was too late and when they had had a bad experience. If we can help to advise people ahead of incidents, that would be really useful.

Secondly, could we have clarification on the timeline for implementing the SFGB and assurances that transitional agreements will provide certainty of access to guidance for consumers, and certainty for providers in relation to signposting arrangements? Thirdly, will the Minister set out how the new body will set standards to be approved by the FCA? The Bill says that that should happen, but it does not specify how it should be approached or how it intends to set out the strategy. Could the Minister provide some guidance on that? I appreciate that the answer to the third point might be quite detailed and I will be happy if we wants to write to me with the information. I look forward to his response.

We are still on clause 2. Is the hon. Gentleman clear about that?

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

To echo what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington said, it has been a long week and I think we will all have situations where we start addressing particular clauses at the wrong time.

I hope not.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I hope not, too, but I have done so well thus far and it cannot last. I will try to address in their entirety the three specific points raised by the hon. Members for Paisley and Renfrewshire South and for Makerfield and by my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire.

The first point is about whether the body itself will provide free and impartial advice and services. The shake of the head betrays the hon. Member for Makerfield. I draw her attention to clause 3, which I suggest she clearly has not read as much as she should have, because the House of Lords made sure that the provision was in the Bill. I accept that I am slightly straying off the subject of clause 2, but she will see that subsections (4), (5) and (6) of clause 3 set out that the function is to provide to members of the public free—

Photo of Mhairi Black Mhairi Black Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Pensions), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Youth affairs) 12:30 pm, 1st February 2018

I understand the reference that the Minister makes to the functions described in clause 3, but the functions are meaningless so long as people do not understand what the difference is between information, guidance and advice.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I will come to the comprehension point in a second, if the hon. Lady will permit. I will deal with all three points.

After the legislation was suitably amended, debated, discussed and agreed with their lordships, it was specifically written into the Bill that the information, guidance and advice should be free and impartial. I take the point that the hon. Member for Makerfield raises, but I hope that she is reassured that that has been specifically written into the Bill, and is addressed there.

On the definition of terms, may I address the points made by the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South that go to the fundamentals of her amendment? One of the key recommendations of the financial advice market review—sometimes known as FAMR—was to clarify the regulatory definition of financial advice. The Government consulted on revising the definition of regulated advice in the existing Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Regulated Activities) Order 2001, so that regulated advice was based on a personal recommendation. That definition is in line with the EU definition set out in the markets in financial instruments directive 2004, catchily known as MFID. The Government agreed that revision, which came into force in early January 2018. We therefore suggest that introducing a new definition of advice in the Bill is unnecessary and potentially duplicative. It would cut across existing regulatory architecture, not just in respect of what the Bill is trying to do and the clients it covers, but across other aspects of the Treasury and dealings with the Financial Conduct Authority and industry and consumer groups. In addition, using legislation to establish definitions for those terms would not provide the flexibility in the future to adapt the definitions appropriately, if and when that needed to take place.

I also take issue with a number of points regarding the amendment. First, the three organisations that we are merging to form the single body do not seek the definitions that the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South is seeking to persuade us of. Those organisations are a pretty good guide to what the Government are doing, because we have consulted at length, asked them what they want us to do, and they most definitely have not said, “Go away and define those individual points.” They want the degree of latitude to continue.

Secondly, the hon. Lady asked the body to do this within three months. To answer my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire on timings, we hope that the body will be created—subject to the good will of the House and Her Majesty signing on the dotted line—between the end of October and the beginning of December. Asking the body to make, within three months of its creation, having merged three organisations, a definition that would probably apply across all financial sectors is, with respect, putting quite a big burden on the body. Also, it is not the appropriate organisation to do that. That should be done by the independent Financial Conduct Authority, suitably engaged in consultation with wider parties. We have done that in relation to advice; that is why we had the FAMR review. To be fair to the FCA, it took two years of long, hard struggle to come up with the specific definition that all parties were content with. I go back to the point that while those particular points are not sought by the individuals, I believe that it is not appropriate to give the definitions.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire asked about timings. We will be up and running, with a fair wind, in winter 2018—but beware of Ministers who say when things will happen, and of course winter in parliamentary terms can stretch a long time. The standards by which the single financial guidance body will be judged are set out in clause 10, on which I am delighted to be addressing the Committee this afternoon, so I will not go into detail about the standards now but will ensure I set out a bit of detail in answer to that question when we debate clause 10, so bear with me. He also made a point about resilience and life events, which I will address briefly.

A simple point is made about resilience, as set out in clause 2 through the various objectives described, whether the consumer protection or the strategic function. It is also fundamentally set out in clause 3(9), which mentions

“financial capability of members of the public”.

One may use “resilience” or “capability”, but the words—without getting too much into definitions—are all but interchangeable and, in the circumstances, we believe that those provisions address capability and the points made by my hon. Friend.

Regarding preparation for life events, my hon. Friend is a passionate supporter, as am I, of the concept of the mid-life MOT, which has been pioneered by certain companies, including Aviva. As a Government, in particular the Department for Work and Pensions, we are looking at the idea of people, at different critical points of their life, the middle point in particular, assessing where they are in terms of finances, pensions, guidance and everything. That seems eminently sensible to us, and we encourage all private sector organisations to do it. We are formulating plans.

Photo of Yvonne Fovargue Yvonne Fovargue Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

But does the Minister agree that it is not only major life events that can cause a problem? In connection with financial resilience, we all know that it might be the broken washing machine that can cause a bump for people who do not have that amount of savings. On financial capability, does the Bill look at addressing the need for people to build up a small pot of savings?

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The answer is yes. Capability is about the ability to deal with life events, whether the traditional ones such as marriage, birth of a child, retirement or the middle of one’s life generally, or—the hon. Lady is dead right—the washing machine or the car breaking down. There is formulated, as I am sure she is aware, things such as the sidecar proposal that is attached to auto-enrolment specifically to provide a savings pot to deal with life events, so that people are not affected by the sudden events involving £100 or £200 and so on. The Department is definitely working on such things, as we will seek to work with the single financial guidance body to ensure that it formulates those strategies. As the BBC puts it, there are other providers, such as Moneybox, Plum or—the name of the third one that I am particularly impressed by—Chip, which allow people to make small savings through day-to-day earnings and usage, giving them a pocket of savings to deal with things. We very much support all such organisations, and I utterly endorse the points made.

Photo of Mhairi Black Mhairi Black Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Pensions), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Youth affairs)

The logic behind the amendment is that right now we have hit a fork in the pensions road, because we are recognising that we might not be able to sustain a lot of the things in place now into the future. People are making decisions about their pensions when, to be frank, they do not have a clue about what they are doing, and they are ending up in horrendous situations because of a lack of understanding and of clarity. To me it seems perfectly reasonable to point out that those three terms, which may be used interchangeably in general conversation, in reality can have a massive impact on an individual.

The Government are promoting an ethos of educating and informing people, to ensure they make the right decision, and I do not see how the amendment waters that down in any sense. I know the Minister is saying that the body needs freedom, and so we cannot define terms as precisely as we would like, but that sounds like the Government are saying that we just have to trust the body’s good will. This is a Government Bill, so why not strengthen it where we can? In that spirit, I am happy to withdraw the amendment on the basis that my later amendments are given due consideration, and that the Minister takes on board what I said. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3