Pensions advice

Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:25 am ar 17 Hydref 2017.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 9:25, 17 Hydref 2017

I beg to move amendment 14, in clause 3, page 5, line 22, leave out “£500” and insert “£1,000”.

This amendment would increase the income tax exemption in relation to pensions advice from £500 to £1,000.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 11, in clause 3, page 6, line 16, at end insert—

“308D  Review of use of provisions of section 308C

(1) Within one year of the passing of the Finance (No. 2) Act 2017, the Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs shall complete a review of the use of the provisions of section 308C in tax years 2017-18 and 2018-19.

(2) The review shall consider in particular—

(a) the use of the relief by persons over 55, and

(b) the use of the relief by women born on or after 6 April 1950.

(3) The Commissioners shall consult the Financial Conduct Authority in carrying out the review under this section.

(4) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall lay a report of the review under this section before the House of Commons as soon as practicable after its completion.”

This amendment would require HMRC to undertake a review of the use of the new income tax exemption for pensions advice in the first two years of its operation.

Amendment 15, in clause 3, page 6, line 16, at end insert—

“308D  Review of effectiveness of provisions of section 308C

(1) Prior to 30 June 2019, the Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs shall complete a review of the effectiveness of the operation of the provisions of section 308C in tax years 2017-18 and 2018-19.

(2) The review shall consider in particular—

(a) the estimated value of the exemption in each tax year,

(b) the effects of the Conditions in subsections (6) and (7) , and

(c) the effects of the provisions on the availability and accessibility of relevant pensions advice.

(3) The Commissioners shall consult the Financial Conduct Authority in carrying out the review under this section.

(4) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall lay a report of the review under this section before the House of Commons as soon as practicable after its completion.”

This amendment would require HMRC to undertake a review of the effectiveness of the new income tax exemption for pensions advice in the first two years of its operation.

Clause 3 stand part.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. The extent, nature and quality of advice received by a person wanting a pension is of great importance and significance. That is particularly the case considering that, in 2017, 30% of the working age population is at state pension age or older. The Department for Work and Pensions recently summarised perfectly the importance of pensions advice on its website:

“For most people in the UK, their pension savings will be their largest financial asset, which they will save towards over the course of their working lives”.

That gets to the nub of the matter. Hopefully, most of us will be saving towards a pension for the majority of our lives and we are ultimately relying on that to secure a good-quality standard of living when we retire. Therefore, the advice received matters a great deal.

For many, the securing of pension advice is, given the nature of their employment, for example, not as problematic. People who work in certain sectors, such as the finance sector, on the whole will find that their companies automatically cover pension advice. For others, the cost of such advice is minimal in the grand scheme of things. However, it has to be said that, for those who do not have much disposable cash and whose retirement is dependent on making wise investments with their pensions and ensuring that they save the right amount, good-quality advice is the key to a more secure retirement. I am sure that that will be greeted with unanimous nodding from Government members, if nothing else.

As Committee members know, the financial advice market review was launched in August 2015

“to explore ways in which government, industry and regulators could take individual and collective steps to stimulate the development of a market that delivers affordable and accessible financial advice and guidance to everyone.”

That is a laudable endeavour if ever there was one. It set out a strong and compelling case that there is a retirement “advice gap” for those without significant wealth. Research by Unbiased, an organisation of Financial Conduct Authority-regulated advisers who are independent of product providers, found that those who sought retirement advice increased their retirement savings by an average of £98 a month. However, less than one third of people have accessed financial advice on their pension. The financial advice market review found that many people perceived financial advice to be unaffordable or “not for people” like them.

The advice gap is not getting any smaller. Although the introduction of the exemption for the first £500-worth of pensions advice to employees is welcome, particularly as it replaces the provisions that limited the advice that people could receive—the cap was set at £150—we think that that does not go far enough. Most people in the pension advice sector would reasonably point out that £500-worth of tax-free advice is a relatively small figure given the importance of the decisions that people face. There are genuine questions to be asked about the impact that such a figure will have on the current pensions advice gap and, importantly, on the quality of that advice.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Llafur, Luton North

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the affordability of pensions advice, but the trustworthiness of pensions advice is also an issue. Even I—I am fairly numerate—do not trust the advice I am given, although fortunately the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority gives better advice than most. Many ordinary people not only think that it is not for the likes of them and are rather nervous, but fear that they are not given correct and disinterested advice.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 9:45, 17 Hydref 2017

That is a very valid point that people should listen to. As I said before, that goes to the nub of the situation.

In the light of that, I have a number of very reasonable amendments that the Committee members certainly will agree are pertinent, which need to be asked for and which need answers. Perhaps the Minister, who I know is the epitome of helpfulness, could explain to the Committee how the figure of £500 was reached, who was consulted on the figure, and the basis of the figure, in terms of the pensions advice market—or is the figure arbitrary? Dare I say, is there a smokescreen?

I am sure that the Government do not want to be seen to be acting without providing adequate funds to address the root problem. The cost of financial advice will inevitably inform the value of the advice. That is why we have put forward the amendment, which would raise the threshold for tax-free pension advice from £500 to £1,000. Pensions advice is, after all, the greatest protection against the threat of fraudsters keen to prey on some of those in vulnerable positions. Because we are talking about large sums of money that people rarely engage with until the end of their lives, pension savings are often an active target for scams.

We must recognise that as technology makes it easier for us to access our pension pots, it also increases the risk of fraud. This is also true of the reforms brought in by the Government under the previous Chancellor, giving pensioners greater freedom to withdraw a portion of their pensions earlier. That has been a benefit to some pensioners, although it has brought with it substantial risks and the problems that we continue to see today. The Money Advice Service website outlines the common signs of pension fraud. They include unsolicited approaches by way of a phone call, text messaging or emails. Other practices include a firm not allowing a person to call it back, and people being pressurised and forced into making a quick decision, or being encouraged to transfer pensions quickly and to send documents by courier. Contact details provided are mobile phone numbers only, or a post office box address.

Other tactics include claiming to be a person who can help to unlock a pension before the age of 55, which is sometimes known as pension liberation or referred to as a personal loan. This is possible only in very rare cases, such as very poor health. People say they know of tax loopholes, or they promise extra savings. They offer a suggested high rate of return on investments, but claim that the risk is low.

The Money Advice Service recommends that people looking for pensions advice check against the FCA register of approved pension advisers. The Opposition welcome the loosening of the advice that an individual can claim under the tax-free allowance, as I indicated earlier. Over the past few years, it has become apparent that people not only are concerned about the level of savings in their pensions, but have taken a greater interest in where their pension savings are being invested. Of course this is a good thing, and ultimately pension funds should be accountable to the person whose savings they invest.

All these issues that I have raised so far summarise the Opposition’s concerns about this clause and why we have put forward an amendment that would require a review of the effectiveness of the tax-free relief in the years 2017, 2018 and 2019. It is important that the Government accept the review, rather than rushing ahead with further reforms that may be considered tinkering around the edges. We are suggesting an increase from £500 to £1,000, and a review of the allowance system in due course.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy), SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy)

It is a pleasure to take part in another Finance Bill Committee, and I am looking forward to another one coming later this year. It feels like we have been discussing this one for quite some time, so I am glad to finally be at the Committee stage in a Committee Room. Thank you for your chairmanship, Mr Howarth.

I wanted to highlight our amendment on this. There have been a huge number of changes in the pensions landscape in relatively recent years. In my working lifetime, we have seen a move away from a final salary pension scheme to career average for the majority of people, even in the public sector. We have seen changes to things such as the lifetime individual savings account and the ability to withdraw pensions. Those are pretty significant changes in the landscape; pensions for people my age look very different from how they looked not that many years ago.

We have also seen changes to the Women Against State Pension Inequality issue, and the equalisation problem. A number of people have come through the door of my surgery and talked to me about how they have been caught by the WASPI issue. If they had had different pensions advice, they would not have retired in the way they did. More than one person who took early retirement now finds that they are caught by the WASPI issue when they should have retired under ill health, which would have given them a completely different outlook on their pensions. If they had had more appropriate advice when they were deciding when to retire, they would have been much better off.

I welcome the Minister’s proposal to make the first £500 of pension advice tax-free; that is an important change and one that we all generally agree with. I agree with the shadow Minister, however, who asked whether £500 is the most appropriate amount. Should it be £1,000? Should it be less? The amendment we have put forward specifically asks about the issues for women born on or after 6 April 1950, because they are the ones who have been caught by this WASPI issue. I am keen to see an increased uptake of pensions advice by those women, because for some of them changing the way in which they retire would make a difference.

Those women have been failed by the system. They have been failed by the Government, who have moved the goalposts and changed the date on which they expected to retire. Some of them retired not long ago and were completely unaware of the change. Those are people who would have read every bit of paper that came through their door. A medical secretary came to my surgery the other day. A medical secretary is someone very diligent about reading bits of information that come through the door, particularly about financial matters that are important for her future, and I believe that she would have chosen a different route to retirement if she had had appropriate advice, and if she had known what would happen on state pension equalisation and what would happen to her.

Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip

Does my hon. Friend agree that this Government have a pretty dire record on protecting pensioners, not least on the WASPI issue, but even on the winter fuel payment?

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy), SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy)

That is absolutely correct; I have seen people come through my surgery door to complain about that as well. I did not quite realise the difference in temperature between London and where I live until I became an MP. In London, I could quite easily not have the heating on at all through the entire year, whereas in Aberdeen my heating is on in September, or even earlier. Heating costs significantly more, so the winter fuel payment is hugely important for a number of my constituents and makes a significant difference to their lives. Those people are in fuel poverty; they have been failed by the system, and it is important to note that.

I will not stretch this out too much, but I must be clear that a number of people have been failed by changes to the goalposts. Those changes might be in how their pension is structured and what kind of pension they will get in the end because of movements away from final salary pensions, or because their state pension age has been moved, or because of things like the Government’s wonderful lifetime ISA, which means that if someone becomes sick, their lifetime ISA is considered a savings pot for benefits and held against them when they try to claim benefits. Therefore, a lifetime ISA cannot be seen as something that can be used instead of a pension, because it does not provide the level of safeguards that a real, proper pension pot does.

Photo of Ruth George Ruth George Llafur, High Peak

The hon. Lady makes some valid points, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle. My question is: given that Which? uncovered back in 2015, the fact that the average cost of independent retirement advice on a £100,000 pension pot was £1,863, does she feel that £500 is an appropriate limit for tax relief?

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy), SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy)

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, which highlights the issue. It would be useful to hear from the Minister about why £500 has been chosen, given that a £100,000 pension pot is not the biggest of pension pots and some people will have more in their pension pot than that. We need to hear from the Minister the reasons behind choosing that figure. It would also be useful to hear about how this might affect those women caught up in and disadvantaged by the Government’s changes to the state pension age, particularly those who have not been told about these changes.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

I welcome the hon. Member for Bootle and the hon. Member for Aberdeen North to the Committee and the part that they will play in the debates that lie ahead.

Before I respond to some of the detailed points raised, including the amendments, I will set out the purpose of clause 3. As we have heard, the clause introduces a new income tax exemption to the cover the first £500-worth of pensions advice provided to an employee in a tax year. That will increase the affordability and accessibility of financial advice for those saving for retirement through a workplace pension.

The success of the Government’s auto-enrolment policy means that more people than ever are saving into a workplace pension scheme, as the hon. Lady recognised. There has been quite a change to the general territory of pensions. On top of this, the Government’s historic pension flexibility reforms have given people better access to their retirement savings and control over their money, but with more money and more options, individuals may have a greater need for professional financial advice.

The recent financial advice market review conducted by HM Treasury and the Financial Conduct Authority concluded that there is a particular advice gap in relation to pensions. The Government are keen to ensure that financial advice is accessible and affordable to consumers, especially those nearing retirement. We want to encourage employers to provide advice to their employees to help them to make informed choices about what to do with their pension savings.

As I said, the changes made by the clause will introduce a new tax exemption to cover the first £500-worth of advice in a tax year. It will apply to advice provided to an employee on pensions savings, and on the general financial and tax issues relating to pensions. The exemption applies whether the employer pays or reimburses the employee for the cost of that advice.

Amendment 14 would double the tax exemption to cover the first £1,000-worth of pensions advice provided to an employee in a tax year. We believe that £500 is an appropriate amount. As the hon. Member for Bootle pointed out, that more than triples the current exemption. It also balances the cost to the Exchequer with the objective of encouraging more employers to provide access for their employees to affordable advice. Increasing the tax exemption to cover the first £1,000 also risks inflating the market and making advice too expensive for employers and employees. I can report that we are already seeing the emergence of new forms of tailored advice at a more accessible price of about £500.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about consultation. We have not formally consulted on the changes. As he pointed out, the matter was covered by the financial advice market review consultation, which received 268 responses. Respondents supported the introduction of tax measures to help consumers to afford financial advice. A wide range of stakeholders responded, including employers, individuals and financial services firms. The FAMR also conducted regional roundtables and sought the views of an advisory panel of industry and consumer experts. Consultation on the measure has been deep and meaningful.

On the question whether £500 is the correct amount, as I have explained, this is a tripling of the amount hitherto available. In addition, each employer can utilise the £500 exemption, so an employee who works for two companies may be provided advice by each and benefit from two allocations of the exemption. Although advice can be more expensive, the Government expect more affordable advice propositions to be launched as a direct result of the FAMR. For example, in May 2016 the Financial Conduct Authority launched its advice unit, which will provide regulatory support to firms developing cheaper, automated advice propositions.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the important issue of protections against pension fraud. The important point to bear in mind is that this measure covers all formats of pensions advice, as long as the advice is regulated financial advice delivered by an FCA-authorised adviser. I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

Amendments 11 and 15 both call for reviews of the effectiveness of new section 308C, so I will deal with them together. Amendment 11 asks for a review to consider issues including

“the use of the relief by persons over 55” and

“women born on or after 6 April 1950.”

Amendment 15 asks for a review to consider issues, including

“the estimated value of the exemption” in each year and

“the effects of the provisions on the availability” of relevant pensions advice.

As the Committee would expect, we will keep the effectiveness of the provisions under review. The conditions have been carefully designed to ensure that employees are treated fairly. An employer offering the payments must do so to all employees generally. However, the rules also ensure payments can be targeted at employees at a particular location, who are within five years of their pension age, or who are suffering from ill health such that they are incapable of carrying on with their occupation. That ensures employers can target payments to those approaching retirement. Like other members of the Committee, I want to ensure these rules are effective. The financial advice market review body intends to undertake a review of the recommendations in 2019, so a formal review of the rules does not need to be included in primary legislation.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy), SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy) 10:00, 17 Hydref 2017

The Minister said the effectiveness of the provisions will be kept under review. Will he commit to ensuring that the review is published at some point?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

As I said, the FAMR body will be conducting a review, which is expected to be published in 2019, and the Government will keep those matters under review on an ongoing basis, as we do all measures of taxation, whether impositions or reliefs.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

It is crucial that we send the message that the Government are serious about helping people with their pension advice. Although the figure has gone up from £150—a fairly small amount in itself—to £500, we believe that still does not send the proper message about seeking sound advice. Given that, and notwithstanding the Minister’s assurances, we will press the amendment increasing the figure to £1,000 to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 9, Noes 10.

Rhif adran 1 Seasonal Working — Pensions advice

Ie: 9 MPs

Na: 10 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Question accordingly negatived.

Does the hon. Gentleman wish to press amendment 15?

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

Given the assurances from the Minister, no, Mr Howarth.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4