The Government is now seeking views on its proposals to create a single body to deliver debt, financial and pension advice to the public. This is in stark contrast to the position announced earlier in 2016, as under David Cameron and George Osbourne, the plan was to abolish MAS, Pension Wise and the Pension Advisory Service. The new Single Financial Guidance Body (SFGB) would look to complement financial guidance from charity and not-for-profit organisations.
The consultation outlines a desire from the Government to make provisions for free-to-client advice for those struggling with problem debt. Especially while the FCA continues its work authorising debt management firms:
“The provision of readily available debt advice remains a government priority. Problem debt can blight individuals’ lives and the government believes it is essential that people should be able to access advice to help them get back on their feet. Demand for free-to-client advice is increasing further as the Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) authorisation process removes debt advice firms who do not meet their standards from the market. In this context, the government is clear that SFGB must continue to fund debt advice to help ensure supply meets demand.”
Financial capability and education for young people is also something that the Government paper recommends the SFGB should try to encourage:
“Finally, the government thinks the SFGB should aim to maximise the impact of financial education for children and young people so that young people are prepared for the financial challenges they will encounter when they manage their own finances and pensions. Financial education has been on the curriculum in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for several years. The government added financial education to the secondary school curriculum in England in 2014, and remains committed to the provision of financial education through the school syllabus. Financial services firms and charities offer programmes inside and outside of schools and stakeholders have suggested that a sector-wide body might usefully co-ordinate and influence these programmes. The government agrees that the SFGB should aim to work with the providers of these services to ensure that as many children as possible can benefit from well targeted and well-constructed financial education programmes.”
In particular, this is something we fully support. Matthew Cheetham, Chief Executive of the One Advice Group, said: “We are committed to helping young people to think about their own financial wellbeing. We have already supported a variety of schools with their financial education programme, and the objective of our PayDay game is to help school children understand about the need for effective money management. We look forward to working with more schools and local organisations to roll our Financial Education for Future Generations initiative out further.” Read more here and here
The initial feedback was critical of the online presence of the current MAS setup and how customers go about getting information through search engines:
“Instead, the government believes it is important that the SFGB has a well-optimised website. One of the lessons learnt from MAS is that traffic is optimised through consumers’ searches in search engines.”
It’s anticipated that the new body won’t be fully up and running until at least Autumn of 2018. The incumbent providers of debt and pension advice will continue to deliver services to the public until the new body is set up.
The consultation document can be found on the Gov.uk site and closes on the 13th February 2017.