Minister wants pensions cold-calling ban 'soon as possible' as MPs back move

MPs have backed a ban on pensions cold-calling amid pressure for ministers to go even further in their efforts to tackle scams and other rip-off schemes.

Treasury minister John Glen said he wants to ban pensions cold-calling "as soon as possible" given the "profoundly damaging impact that pensions scams can have on people's lives", claiming Government changes to the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill would take steps towards this aim.

Mr Glen added there were provisions for additional bans "to take place very quickly" amid calls for a total ban on cold-calling as well as action against claims management companies.

New clause nine in the Bill gives the Work and Pensions Secretary the power to make regulations - which would have to be approved by MPs - to ban unsolicited direct marketing relating to pensions, with an expectation this power will be used by June.

New clause four to the Bill, tabled by the Government, would also give the Work and Pensions Secretary the power to make regulations to ban unsolicited direct marketing in relation to consumer financial products other than pensions.

Speaking at the Bill's report stage, Mr Glen said: "It's clear to me that too often significant consumer detriment arises because of cold-calling, and if we find there is evidence that people are experiencing detriment as a result of cold-calling on consumer financial products, we won't hesitate to use this power to protect consumers."

New clauses nine and four were added to the Bill without any opposition from MPs at the Bill's report stage. It was then given an unopposed third reading.

However, there was pressure on ministers during the course of the debate to go further with their proposed ban.

SNP social justice spokesman Neil Gray, intervening, said: "(Mr Glen) has made a very good case for banning cold-calling for pensions and some other financial industries - and the case is very clear and has been well made.

"But why won't the Government go further to ban cold-calling outright?"

Mr Glen pointed to the need to "take time to reflect on the evidence" and make changes in consultation with a new body which is being established, adding he acknowledged the "widespread concern" which exists in other areas.

The minister later said: "We have made provision for additional bans to take place very quickly, and if my optimism is misplaced then I would expect the body to act."

Shadow work and pensions minister Jack Dromey described pension cold-calling as a "blight" on people across the UK, noting millions of pensioners are targeted annually and fraudsters make 250 million calls a year.

He said of Labour's approach: "First, banning pensions cold-calling.

"Second, pushing for a total ban now on cold-calling for claims management companies, tackling the scourge of unsolicited claims head-on.

Jack Dromey
Labour's Jack Dromey (Parliament TV)

"Third, banning the use of information obtained through cold-calling.

"Fourth, ensuring that the strongest possible sanctions are put on those who break the ban."

Mr Dromey said the Government's commitment to ban pensions cold-calling from June is a "necessary and wholly welcome step", but added: "I hope they will go just that little bit further."

He said Labour amendments to the Bill seek to tighten provisions around the ban and make it fit for purpose.

Senior Labour MP Frank Field, chairman of the Work and Pensions select committee, added: "Not only should cold-calling become unlawful, but should any information arise from that, it should not be used for commercial purposes i.e. for pensions savings."

An SNP amendment calling for specially trained advisers and guidance to be made available for those in vulnerable circumstances was defeated by 293 votes to 255, majority 38.

Another amendment supported by dozens of Labour MPs, which would have required an assessment of different types of lending across the UK, was also defeated by 293 votes to 255, majority 38.

The Bill will now return to the Lords for further scrutiny.

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