Tuesday 17 February 2015

A Better Plan for Wigan

This week Labour published our ‘Better Plan for Britain’s Prosperity’, setting out Labour’s approach to building prosperity in 21st Century Britain. Labour’s plan takes different approach to creating prosperity, not relying on a few but boosting productivity across Britain's firms and workforce, including in Wigan.

At the heart of Labour’s plan is an understanding that Britain only succeeds when working people succeed. This contrasts with the failed approach taken by the Tories who wrongly believe that the best way to pursue growth is to cut taxes at the top and hope that wealth trickles down.

Specifically, Labour’s better plan recognises that Britain’s world class firms, in sectors which enjoy established comparative advantage, need to be able to take long-term decisions and access key markets.

It also commits Labour to prioritise doing everything we can to ensure more smaller businesses reach their potential to power future growth. That’s why the next Labour Government is committed to cutting and then freezing business rates for small business properties and putting small businesses first in line for tax cuts.

Labour will also improve training and apprenticeships, including guaranteeing every school leaver that gets the right grades a high quality apprenticeship.

Our plan also sets out our plans to develop a new industrial strategy that focuses not just on high-tech firms, but also on supporting our big employing sectors such as retail and social care to win a race to the top and not get dragged into a race to the bottom.

And finally, it will ensure the public sector plays an active part in driving up productivity across the whole economy, supporting firms through cutting-edge innovation and research, strategic investment and procurement.

Taken together, this approach will deliver the sustainable growth and rising living standards that our country needs and ensure our economy works for working people in Wigan.

It is becoming increasingly clear that there is a choice of two plans at this election: a failing plan under which we would carrying on as we are with a government claiming the economy is a success when it only works for a handful of people at the top; or a new plan, a better plan, that says this economy must succeed for working families if Britain as a whole is going to succeed.

Wednesday 11 February 2015

My call for FCA to act against Rent to Own charges

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Debt and Personal Finance, of which I am chair has published the final report of its Inquiry into the Rent to Own (RTO) sector.

Rent to Own firms specialise in supplying furniture, TVs and basic household goods such as washing machines to low-income households. The three main RTO firms are BrightHouse, PerfectHome and Buy as you View. We estimate the three firms have combined customer base of more than 350,000 households.

The report sets out seven main concerns and makes 20 recommendations for the regulator, The FCA, firms and Government. The key recommendations are:

The FCA should use its product intervention powers to ban expensive warranties and insurances from being a compulsory part of RTO agreements.
The FCA should carry out a review into possible mis-selling of insurances looking at whether RTO customers have been sold services they already had or did not need.
The FCA should investigate over-charging and make sure prices for additional warranties and insurances are transparent.
There should be new ‘health warnings’ to ensure customers are aware of the total cost of RTO agreements and the risks of repossession.
The FCA should introduce new sector-specific protections to protect customers in financial difficulty against loss of essential items when they have made substantial payments towards ownership.

Rent to Own Stores like BrightHouse charge inflated prices to some of the poorest people in the country. Customers are often obliged to take out additional warranties and insurance, as a result paying several times the true value of the goods.

Many customers simply can’t keep up and the goods are taken back to be sold again. RTO firms have been cashing in on people’s financial struggles for more than a decade. The FCA needs to act now to stop RTO customers from being ripped off.

The APPG is writing to the chief executive of the FCA, Martin Wheatley, to ask him to adopt our blueprint for reform. The regulator should act urgently to protect customers.

The Inquiry found:

APRs of 94.7% and charges for bolt-on cover that double the cost of essential household goods.
One in five BrightHouse customers is falling more than a month behind with payments.
22% of RTO customers in arrears have goods taken back or repossessed –one in ten of all agreements.
Unfair practices in the sector have set off “alarms bells” with the regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)