Where to do we turn to for guidance on understanding and managing our money?
For many of us it’s Google. In fact we know through Google data that a year-high number of people searched for the term ‘pension’ in the first three months of 2017, and that these searches have increased almost four times since September 2012.
This not only shows that people look at a variety of sources for financial guidance, but underlines that no-one should make a life-changing decision without speaking to an expert.
New research on the level of indebtedness in the UK also shows that there are 4 million people who have problems with debt. Not all these people need debt advice, but it is important that free debt advice is available to those who do need it and particularly those who are most vulnerable.
We need to use this sort of evidence to fund interventions that really work - to have the biggest impact on consumer behaviour.
On Monday the House of Commons debated serious measures to address the provision of debt advice and pensions guidance across the UK, as the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill continued its progress through Parliament.
Whilst the success of automatic enrollment has helped more than nine million people save into a workplace pension, it is essential that people can access support in managing their personal finances as a whole.
Currently we have three public services – The Money Advice Service, The Pensions Advisory Service and Pension Wise – which offer high quality, but very separate support – where guidance has often been given through separate appointments, often on opposite sides of towns and cities.
And whilst the Money Advice Service supported almost 500,000 people across the country with debt advice sessions and Pension Wise delivered over 80,000 appointments last year, we can and will do more.
We know that this help is often most effective when it is delivered at specific life events. This could be at the point that you leave education, start your first job, when a baby is born, upon retirement or at the unfortunate point of a bereavement.
A new social norm needs to be created so that people more regularly seek help and guidance throughout their life. At the DWP we are pioneering the mid-life MOT which would introduce a financial stock-take for older workers. This would enable people to make informed choices around retirement and their pension together.
Thanks to our plans to create a Single Financial Guidance Body, we will make it easier for everyone to access free and impartial information and guidance to help them make effective financial decisions. The new body will look at the full picture of consumer finance need and develop customer journeys for financial guidance across all life stages, whilst having a clear remit to focus on those who are most in need.
I want to open up financial guidance to everyone. The new Single Financial Guidance Body will do just that, helping many more people to get on top of their finances throughout their life.
Guy Opperman MP is the Minister for Pensions and Financial Inclusion