Every week I speak with constituents seeking advice on a wide range of everyday issues that are effecting them and their families. Many are concerned about the issue of debt, and are seeking quality, free, independent debt advice. Some want guidance on pension options. Some are worried about pensions cold calling to their families and are worried about financial scams. Others think we should have a breathing space to stop debt getting out of control.
All these legitimate issues were addressed this week in the House of Commons, as the Government’s new bill, the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill, had its second reading.
With the success of auto-enrolment in work place pensions, resulting in nine million new savers, this government has helped create a whole new generation of savers, including many young people who are now saving for the first time.
As well as making it easier for people to save for their future, we want to provide high quality, impartial debt advice. Last year, the Government’s Money Advice Service supported almost 500,000 people across the country with debt advice sessions. But we can and will do more. We already provide pensions guidance for people across the UK through Pension Wise and The Pensions Advisory Service but, on an agreed cross-party basis, it has been agreed that merging these three organisations into one new Single Financial Guidance Body is the right way forward for better free services and greater coverage. This development has been welcomed by the Citizens Advice Service. I know from my close working with our local CAB that advice about debt remains the most sought after type of advice they provide to local people.
We know that free, high quality, independent advice is often most effective when it is delivered at important moments in someone’s life – such as when someone leaves school, gets their first job, has a baby or retires. But we need fundamentally to change the way people think about their finances, so that people more regularly seek help and guidance throughout their life. That is why we are pioneering the mid-life MOT, which would introduce a financial stock-take for older workers. This would enable people to make informed choices around savings, retirement and their pension together. And if they do get into debt problems a breathing space allows them to address the problems before they get out of control.
And, finally, we are also banning pensions cold calling, which has become a concern for many. There are tweaks and amendments that will be needed to sort the Bill into its final form but this is a Government that has identified problems and is working on the solutions.
The Government wants to open up free, impartial, debt advice and pensions guidance to more people. The new Single Financial Guidance Body will do just that, helping people to manage their finances better throughout their life.
First published in the West Briton 25/01/18