Queen's speech: what it means for your money

21 June 2017, 10:41   By Samantha Smith

THE Government have reopened Parliament with the customary Queen's Speech, which has outlined the bills and measures they plan to introduce over the next two years.

personal finance desk
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Given the somewhat weakened nature of the returning Conservative Government, the Speech was short on surprises or bold proposals, yet a number of policies will nonetheless carry considerable significance for the personal finances of the UK public.

Some of these - such as the plans to abolish letting agents' fees in England - will make a positive difference to these finances.

Yet others - such as the watered down version of the Conservative's manifesto promise to cap energy prices - are less reassuring, and suggest that the new Parliament won't always be kind to the nation's wallets.

Letting agents fees

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For the most part, the Queen's Speech simply reiterated the Government's commitment to policies they'd announced before the General Election.

Still, the familiarity doesn't stop the ban on letting agents' fee from being a benefit to the nation's renters, who on average currently pay £223 to letting agents whenever they move into a new privately rented property.

In fact, the housing charity Shelter have previously said that one in seven tenants pay upwards of £500, while Citizens Advice said in 2015 that the average fee - as reported by letting agents - was actually £337.

They also said that the fee caused financial difficulties for 90% of renters, with 42% having to borrow money from friends and family in order to cover it.

Given that such expense comes on top of already high housing costs and an ongoing nationwide debt binge, it's understandable that the likes of Citizens Advice called for the fees to be scrapped, and that the Government have once again committed to scrapping them.

However, ARLA Propertymark - who represent letting agents - say the new rules would cost the industry 4,000 jobs.

At the same time, it would effectively require the fees to be paid by landlords, who have already been on the wrong end of changes to tax relief in recent years.

As such, they would face even more pressure to raise the rents for their tenants, making it possible that the UK's renters will essentially continue paying letting agents fees, albeit via a more indirect route.

That said, nothing about this is certain at the moment, and it could simply be the case that letting agents respond to the removal of fees by becoming more efficient and competitive, or so tenants would hope.

Energy bills

The other big item on the Queen's Speech was a renewed vow to introduce "measures to help tackle unfair practices in the energy market to help reduce energy bills".

Unfortunately, such a vague statement of intent reveals that the Government have more or less dropped plans for a direct cap on standard variable tariffs (SVTs), which had been mooted for numerous months prior to being confirmed in their election manifesto.

The contents of this Queen's Speech will go some way toward tackling some of the biggest challenges facing our clients and consumers.
Gillian Guy, Citizens Advice

This is potentially bad news for the 17 million or so customers currently on SVTs, since they'll lose protection against their bills rising too high.

Yet on the other hand, it's potentially good news for those customers on fixed tariffs or likely to move to fixed tariffs, since it was argued by energy providers that their industry would pay for an SVT cap by making fixed tariffs more expensive.

But once again, the lack of concrete details means that it's hard to predict just how customers will be affected by the Government's planned intervention. And given the apparent instability of the current Government, it's possible that such an intervention will fail to materialise before a new one enters.

Financial advice

One proposal that remains more concrete, however, is the plan to "combine three financial advice bodies into one".

Contained in the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill, this comes from a plan outlined in October that will see the Money Advice Service, the Pensions Advisory Service, and Pension Wise merged into a single entity.

Given that this new streamlined body will have the "responsibility for coordinating the provision of debt advice, money guidance, and pension guidance", it's hoped that people will receive more joined up and effective advice, helping them to increase their financial skills in a more comprehensive way than previously.

However, the reduction of three bodies into one suggests that the merger is part of a cost cutting exercise, and that the same depth, extent and specificity of advice may cease being available to customers.

Of course, it can only be hoped that this worry is unfounded, and that organisations such as Citizens Advice are correct when they say, "With the single financial guidance body there is a real opportunity to make sure people are getting the independent and impartial guidance they need".

And once again, it can only be hoped that the current Government survive long enough to actually implement these proposals.

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