The Government has vowed to outlaw letting fees, crack down on whiplash fraud and pass a Repeal Bill to handle the Brexit transition as it unveiled its plans for new legislation over the next two years.
But crucially there were no immediate plans in today's Queen's Speech for a bill to cap energy prices – a key Conservative Party manifesto pledge. The Government says it does plan to extend 'price protection' for those on poor energy deals, with more details to be consulted on through a Green Paper.
The Queen's Speech sets out the Government's agenda for planned new legislation and policies. That doesn't necessarily mean these changes will happen though, as laws have to pass through Parliament and policies could end up being dropped – particularly given we have a hung Parliament with no one party having an overall majority.
This year's Queen's Speech outlined Government plans for the next two years, as next year's has been cancelled to allow more time for the Government to negotiate Brexit terms.
What's in the 2017 Queen's Speech?
The Queen's Speech includes planned new legislation and other Government proposals that may not be set out in – or may not require – new legislation.
Here's a summary of new laws most likely to affect consumers. The Government plans to:
- Ban unfair tenants' fees. The Draft Tenants' Fees Bill will mean renters in England don't have to pay letting fees, and deposits will be capped at one month's rent, holding deposits at one week's rent and default fees will also be capped. (It's worth noting this is a draft bill, which means extra consultation and scrutiny will take place before it's introduced to Parliament.)
- Crackdown on fraudulent whiplash claims. A new Civil Liability Bill will introduce new rules over medical evidence and set a new fixed rate of compensation for whiplash injuries. The Government says this could reduce the average car insurance premium by about £35/year.
- Extend the smart meter roll-out by five years. The Smart Meter Bill will extend by five years the Government's powers to make changes to smart meter regulations. The Government says this will help deliver the Conservatives' manifesto commitment that every household and business is offered a smart meter by the end of 2020, and ensure "the roll-out is delivered effectively, and that benefits are maximised into the future".
- Increase protection for those with 'logbook loans'. A logbook loan is when borrowers take out a mortgage on items they own, such as their car. The Goods Mortgage Bill will bring about recommendations from statutory independent body the Law Commission to ensure that borrowers are better informed about their loan and that there are more safeguards if they get into financial difficulty – for example, requiring lenders to have a court order before seizing goods.
- Update the ATOL scheme. A Travel Protection Bill will update the ATOL (Air Travel Organiser's Licence) scheme, which offers financial protection to those who book holidays and flights. The scheme will be updated to reflect "innovation in the online travel market" and ensure holidaymakers are protected whether they book via a high street travel agent or online.
- Create a single body for debt and money advice. Under the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill, debt and money advice and pension guidance will be coordinated by creating a new statutory body to replace the Money Advice Service, The Pensions Advisory Service and Pension Wise.
- Pass a Repeal Bill to handle the Brexit transition. The bill will ensure the UK has its own equivalent laws after we leave the European Union.
- Pass a new Data Protection Bill to give individuals more control over their data. This would include a 'right to be forgotten' if there's no legitimate reason for data to be kept.
And here are the other policies affecting consumers set out in the Queen's Speech. The Government says it will:
- Increase the national living wage. It will rise to 60% of median earnings by 2020, which means those on the lowest wages should see their pay rise faster than average. This isn't set out as part of new legislation, but is a firm commitment from the Government.
- Extend 'price protection' for those on poor energy deals – though it's unclear if this means an energy price cap. The Conservatives had pledged to cap the price of standard tariffs, but it's no clearer from today's speech if this will now happen or in what form.
The Government's background briefing says: "We have committed to extending the price protection currently in place for some vulnerable energy consumers to more of those on the poorest value tariffs. We are considering the best way to do this – whether through action by the regulator or legislation." More details will be published in a forthcoming consumer markets 'Green Paper'.
- Ensure 'fairer markets for consumers' across other sectors too. The consumer markets Green Paper isn't just about energy. It will look at helping consumers avoid being caught out by unfair terms and subscription traps and help enforce their rights, for example through more widespread use of alternative dispute resolution.
It will also look at specific markets such as telecoms, where the Government says it will "make billing easier to understand for customers", and housing, where the Government says it will look to "streamline" the buying process. This is just a Green Paper though – so it's possible further legislation will be required to make these actually happen.
Following the Queen's Speech, Energy Secretary Greg Clark wrote to regulator Ofgem asking what powers it has to tackle the problem of standard tariffs, saying it must be "brought to a rapid end" and there's a need to "proceed without delay".
It's worth noting some manifesto pledges – including means-testing winter fuel payments and changes to free school meals – were not mentioned at all in the Queen's Speech or background papers.
Additional reporting by the Press Association.