On 11th May 2023, the House of Lords debated the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill in committee. The Bishop of St Albans spoke in support of an amendment tabled by Lord Coaker which would provide for the potential of financial compensation for victims of economic crime:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: I am sorry I have been unable to engage more fully and consistently with this Bill, but this amendment prompted me to come here when I had a few minutes. I was recently speaking to someone I met at a social gathering. In the course of the evening, we were talking about a whole range of things, and he was talking about the fact that he had been defrauded of some money and how it is now materially affecting his retirement. His comment was: “I feel so embarrassed, because I’ve always tended to think it was simple people who didn’t understand financial matters who were likely to lose money. I’m highly literate, I’ve done all the right things, but I’ve been defrauded”. This is having a big effect.
Also, as we are becoming increasingly cashless and more and more transactions are online—it looks like that will be the trajectory for quite some while—there is far more potential for these sorts of frauds. For example, I note that fraud on lost and stolen cards had increased by 30% by 2022 and card ID theft, where a criminal opens or takes over a card account, had almost doubled in the previous year. In other words, this crime is getting worse.
It is in everybody’s interests that we encourage people to use what is, for most of us, a great convenience being able to pay with our cards—but we need to make sure that people have confidence. The statistic that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, gave us—that one in 15 adults has been a victim—is particularly interesting. In other words, it is now widely assumed among groups of ordinary people chatting that this is a very real problem. There is a good side to that—hopefully, we are being far more cautious and savvy—but, nevertheless, that will not encourage people to invest and use some of the financial services that we might hope they will as they plan their retirements.
I just want to add my words of encouragement and ask the Government whether they can give us some idea about whether this amendment, or something similar, might be a way forward. It would give people confidence if they knew that there was clear and simple way to find redress when they were a victim of fraud. Also, could this be built on in some way, not least because the proceeds of property recovered under this future Act could then be directed towards compensation?
Extracts from the speeches that followed:
Lord Fox (LD): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for their words. I am not going to try to add to the issue of individuals; instead, I note that we should remember that this also involves businesses. The Home Office survey said that one-fifth of businesses have been hit by fraud. Such fraud can be existential to those businesses—at the very least, it is a tax on growth because money that is stolen is not reinvested in that business—so this matters.
In earlier debates, we have talked about the other side of this: stemming the cause of fraud. We have talked about the failure to report as well as the facilitation issue. The Government seem much more interested in picking up on the failure to report side than on the facilitation side. I ask the Minister to go back and find a middle way between what was being proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, and her committee and what we have now, which is nothing—that is, to find some sort of code of conduct with teeth that starts to address the facilitation issue. It is through facilitation that this fraud is happening, in many cases. At the same time as addressing questions about compensation, we must go back and find effective ways of preventing this happening.
Lord Coaker (Lab): There is nothing in particular wrong with the Fraud Strategy, which has some really good stuff in it, but the example that the Minister gave from page 24, which was perfectly reasonable, is a pilot. It does not say, “We will change the law”, but “we will review” what the pilot tells us, whereas, if you go back to the much stronger commitment at the beginning of the Fraud Strategy, it gives you some expectation that something will happen. It does not say, “We will review” but “We will ensure”—which is the sort of language that people want to hear—that
“victims of fraud are reimbursed and supported”.
It does not say, “We will review the law” but
“We will … Change the law so that more victims of fraud will get their money back”.
I get what the Minister said—that it is a pilot and a review, which is good—but a pilot and a review is not the same as what is promised in paragraph 7 on page 4 of the Fraud Strategy. We are talking about colossal sums of money and, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans pointed out to us, people are embarrassed; large numbers do not know what their rights are under the current law and cannot get their money back. That is the reality. The simple question for the Government, who I am sure want to improve it—there is no doubt about that—is: what five practical things will it mean? We cannot change the past, but we could do something about the future.
I also take the Minister’s point that this is about prevention, too. I absolutely accept that; we need double authentication and so on. I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for his support and helpful comments in this short but important debate. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Fox, for reminding us that businesses and enterprises are also subject to fraudulent activity and that this is about them too. That was an important point to make.
To conclude, I thank the Minister for his response but ask him to speak to his department about how we get that surge of energy into the Bill and make what the Fraud Strategy says a reality so that we make a real difference. With that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
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