The Queen’s Speech: what it holds for people in debt and financial difficulty

shutterstock_258751613Today’s Queen’s Speech set out the government’s legislative programme for the year ahead. At a time when the public policy discourse is dominated by Brexit, it gives us a glimpse of government priorities in a post-referendum world.

Given that the domestic agenda has inevitably been less high profile than usual in the last few months, it’s no surprise that there was a heavy focus in the speech on supporting consumers and social reform. For people and organisations working in debt advice, the key bills to watch out for include:

  • A Pensions Bill which will cover changes to the pensions, money and debt advice landscape outlined in the Treasury’s current Public Financial Guidance consultation. This involves merging the Pension Advisory Service, Pension Wise and Money Advice Service into single body, and creating a new financial or money guidance body for the UK.
  • A Lifetime Savings Bill taking forward the Budget 2016 announcements to help the lowest-income families to build up a ‘rainy day fund’, through a new Help to Save scheme. Under this scheme, those in work but getting certain benefits who put aside £50 a month will see it matched by state. It will also cover a new Lifetime ISA for under-40s, offering £1,000 tax-free payment each year for those saving £4,000.
  • A Better Markets Bill which will introduce measures to make it easier for customers to switch banks and energy providers, and introduce steps to enable customers to settle bills more easily.
  • A Digital Economy Bill which will offer protection for consumers from spam email and nuisance calls by ensuring consent is obtained for direct marketing.

The Prison and Court Reform Bill, trailing the announcements in the media this morning, may also stretch as far as reform of local and county court bailiff services (more on this from us next week…). Also of interest will be the Children and Young Persons Bill, looking at improving outcomes for children in care.

Many of the measures in this latter Bill, and the Lifetime Savings Bill will form a key part of the governments Life Chances agenda. This is a renewed focus to tackle poverty and the causes of deprivation, a strategy for which is due out in the summer.   Debt and household financial stability will be one of the key strands of this strategy, so we should expect to hear much more about it over the next while. This focus on debt was also afforded a nod in the speech with the Queen announcing that ‘my government will introduce new indicators for measuring life chances ….on family instability, addiction and debt’.

Notably there was no explicit reference to legislation in these areas, suggesting that it is unlikely these indicators themselves will be put on a statutory footing, as the child poverty measures previously were. Whether they should be, and of course how they are made up, will no doubt be questions for debate over coming months.

That said, the reference to, and recognition of problem debt as a key contributor to people’s life chances will be welcome by the advice sector, and provide a new opportunity to put plans in place to support people in financial difficulty.

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