Norman Lamb teams up with Martin Lewis to demand end to threatening debt letters

Norman Lamb in Westminster Hall

Receiving intimidating letters demanding money from those in debt has been likened to "someone standing in front of you with a knife" in a debate called by Norman Lamb MP.

Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk, led a debate in Westminster Hall on Tuesday 21st May in support of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute's Stop the Debt Threats campaign.

The institute's research found more than 100,000 people in debt attempt to take their own life in England every year and one factor was letters from creditors.

It is an issue MoneySavingExpert founder Mr Lewis, who is also founder and chairman of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI), previously said was "destroying lives".

Mr Lamb is a member of the charity's advisory board, alongside MP colleagues Johnny Mercer and Luciana Berger.

He said the letters those in debt receive are often written in intimidating and complex language, and can feature threats of court action right at the top. Receiving these letters from multiple lenders on a daily basis can leave people feeling threatened and unable to see a solution to their situation.

He gave the example of man named only as Paul, who lives with bipolar.

Norman Lamb MP said:

"When he's on a high he would go out on spending sprees, funded by loans and during periods of depression he would struggle to pay his bills and often spends money to help himself feel better.

Paul said being hounded by creditors left him feeling trapped and helpless, and he tragically made attempts on his own life."

Mr Lamb also read a statement in Paul's own words, which said: "The letters you get from creditors are horrendous , they were like someone standing in front of me with a knife. So I wanted to get rid of them, I would just put them straight in the bin or burn them."

The MMHPI campaign to make changes to the letters has been backed by Mind, the Samaritans, Citizens Advice and Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Helen Undy, MMHPI chief executive, said:

"The rules on debt collection letters were meant to ensure that people know their rights and where to get help, but they're having the opposite effect. Instead, the intimidating and threatening language of these letters can leave people hopeless and unsure where to turn."

Mr Lamb also highlighted the death of 20-year-old Jerome Rogers.

Mr Rogers was a motorbike courier from south London, whose death has been the focus of the BBC drama Killed By My Debt.

Norman Lamb MP said:

"Jerome took his own life at the age of only 20 after receiving two £65 traffic fines that escalated to more than £1,000 of debt. His mother, Tracey, believes that the combination of the intimidating letters he received and the threatening bailiffs who came to his home were significant factors in his death. She also says that if the letters hadn't been so frightening, and if Jerome had been able to get the right support when he needed it, he would be here today."

He added that people with mental health problems were three times more likely to be in problem debt.

More than 6,000 people previously signed a petition to make changes to the letters received by those in debt.

Norman Lamb MP said:

"What's particularly galling is that lenders are in fact forced to send these threatening debt letters due to out-of-date legislation introduced nearly 50 years ago.

The content of debt letters is dictated by rules in the Consumer Credit Act (1974), which compels lenders to use obscure and intimidating language.

It also obliges them to include obsolete advice for people in debt to consult their solicitor, which overlooks the availability of free debt support from charities such as StepChange and Citizens Advice, and the fact that for many people, access to a solicitor is impossible."

To sign the petition to change the letters, visit https://www.moneyandmentalhealth.org/debt-threats/

Notes:

The above is taken from an article featured in the Eastern Daily Press by Geri Scott on 21st May 2019.

The Westminster Hall debate can be viewed in its entirety here.


Norman Lamb hears about impact of alcohol on health

Norman Lamb with Adrian Chiles

Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk, joined the Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA)’s Parliamentary Event to celebrate the recent strides forward in alcohol policy and outline the many challenges that remain.

The ripples of harmful alcohol consumption pass from individuals, through families and communities, and impact our society as a whole. These effects are substantial and wide-reaching as alcohol contributes to the death of 65 people every day in England alone1, is involved in 39% of all violent crime in England and Wales,2 and costs NHS England £3.5 billion every year.3

The most substantial recent development in alcohol policy has been the adoption of minimum unit pricing (MUP) in some, but not all, parts of the British Isles. Last May Scotland led the way by introducing a 50p MUP, and Wales will do so this year. This policy, which means no alcoholic product can be sold at less than 50p per unit of alcohol, targets the highest strength, cheapest products and has little to no impact on pubs and moderate drinkers. MUP will also be introduced in the Republic of Ireland in the near future, but there are no current plans to do so in England.

While it is still too early to say what the impact of MUP in Scotland has been so far, it is expected to deliver significant health and social benefits. In England, the introduction of MUP is expected to save 525 lives and prevent 22,000 hospital admissions every year. 4

Norman Lamb MP said:

“I am acutely aware that alcohol can, in some circumstances, have a truly devastating effect on individuals.

I was pleased to attend this reception on Parliament, and support calls for targeted, evidence-based programmes that will allow us to reduce alcohol harm. I strongly support the introduction of a Minimum Unit Price.”

Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the AHA, commented:

“The magnitude of the impact of alcohol on our society is truly staggering.

The forthcoming Prevention Green Paper provides a great opportunity to reduce these levels of alcohol harm and allow England to catch up with its neighbours.

We are calling on the Government to also introduce minimum unit pricing in England, a policy that can save hundreds of lives and prevent thousands of episodes of harm each year, without significant cost to those who consume alcohol in moderation.”

Notes:

The Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA) is a coalition of 50 health and alcohol organisations who share a common interest in reducing alcohol-related harm, and who campaign for evidence-based policies to reduce this harm. Members include medical royal colleges, charities, patient representatives and alcohol health campaigners. For more information, please visit: www.ahauk.org

Sources:

  1. PHE, Local Alcohol Profiles for England (2016);
  2. ONS The nature of violent crime in England and Wales: year ending March 2018 (2018);
  3. PHE Health matters: harmful drinking and alcohol dependence (2016).
  4. Angus C. et al, Alcohol and cancer trends: Intervention Scenarios, University of Sheffield and Cancer Research UK (2016).

Benefits tribunal waiting times increase again in Norwich, local MP discovers

Norman Lamb calls the 6 month average waits a “denial of justice”.

Norman Lamb said that “the system is imposing an intolerable financial pressure” on people forced to wait an average of 6 months for benefits appeals cases, as latest data showed waiting times are increasing.

The average waiting time for ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) claimants at tribunal was 26 weeks in October to December 2018 – an increase of 4 weeks compared to the figures covering July to September 2018. This was the longest average waiting time since at least April 2015.

That means that if an ESA claimant’s case was received by the courts on the 1st January, they wouldn’t receive a final decision until the last week of June.

For other claimants, the picture slightly improved but overall remains poor. The average waiting time for PIP (Personal Independence Payment) claimants at tribunal was 25 weeks, according to figures released covering October to December 2018. That means the average wait has fallen by 1 week compared to the figures covering July to September 2018. But claimants still have to wait nearly 6 months for their appeal to be heard.

When decisions are finally made, they strongly favour of the claimant: 7 out of 10 PIP and ESA claimants received a decision in their favour, demonstrating that many original decisions are wrong.

Norman Lamb, former social care minister, uncovered the figures. He called on the Government to take action to halt the rise in average waiting times. He has received assurances from the Minister responsible for the courts that judicial appointments are being made in an attempt to reduce waiting times.

Norman Lamb MP said:

“Justice delayed is justice denied, and when people are waiting six months on average, that is a denial of justice.

These lengthy waits would be shocking even if they were only experienced by 10 or 25% of claimants. But a 6 month wait is just the average!  

Waiting 6 months for an appeal when in many cases the person has been pushed into financial distress is intolerable.

It is difficult to understate how traumatic the experience of waiting so long for a tribunal decision can be. Some of those claimants will have desperately needed their PIP or ESA decisions reversed. And the high success rates of claimants is evidence that the Government is forcing people to take claims through the lengthy tribunal process too frequently.

I recently met with the Minister to lobby for improvement, and received assurances that judicial appointments were being made to reduce delays – but we are yet to see any real impact of those appointments.

My concern is that the waiting times are continuing to rise – not just in Norwich but across the country. Further rises in the 2019 figures for Norwich would be unacceptable.”

Notes:

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) was introduced in October 2008.

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) was introduced in April 2013.

‘Average weeks’ measures the average number of weeks from receipt in HMCTS to final outcome within the period.

Success rate is calculated by the calculating the number of ‘Decisions in favour’ as a proportion of the number of total decisions.

The number of total decisions is calculated by adding ‘Decisions upheld’ and ‘Decisions in favour’.

‘Decisions upheld’ are those cases where the original decision by the First tier agency is upheld.

‘Decisions in favour’ are those cases where the original decision in revised in favour of the customer.

For ESA claimants in Norwich, the average wait in Q2 2018-19 was 22 weeks; the total number of decisions was 70 and the success rate was 77.14%.

For ESA claimants in Norwich, the average wait in Q3 2018-19 was 26 weeks; the total number of decisions was 174 and the success rate was 78.74%.

For PIP claimants in Norwich, the average wait in Q2 2018-19 was 26 weeks; the total number of decisions was 255 and the success rate was 67.06%.

For PIP claimants in Norwich, the average wait in Q3 2018-19 was 25 weeks; the total number of decisions was 217 and the success rate was 70.05%.

Figures were released as part of the Ministry of Justice’s “Tribunals and gender recognition certificate statistics quarterly: October to December 2018”.


Norfolk MP's to meet Minister Rishi Sunak to discuss local government funding

Today in Parliament Norfolk MP’s will meet with Local Government Minister Rishi Sunak MP, to discuss funding of Norfolk County Council.

In January 2019, Norfolk County Council Leader Cllr Andrew Proctor wrote to MPs setting out the challenging circumstances the Council faces in developing a budget for 2019-20 and then 2021-22.

Cllr Proctor outlined the significant difficulty in ensuring the continued delivery of demand-led services without guaranteed multi-year funding from central Government.

Norman Lamb coordinated a letter, signed by five other Norfolk MPs requesting a meeting with the Chancellor or another Treasury Minister.

This meeting will take place today (Tuesday 14th May 2019) in Westminster.

Norman Lamb MP said:

“I was pleased when MPs from other parties signed my letter requesting a meeting with the Minister to discuss the financial challenges faced by Norfolk County Council.

In today’s meeting with the Minister I will stress how serious the financial situation in Norfolk is.

The decisions that Norfolk County Council will be making when setting out their budget will impact many vulnerable people in our communities. I am acutely aware that many who rely on council services are set to lose out, including many elderly and disabled people in need of care and children and young people at risk.

I am hopeful that the Minister will listen to our concerns. It is imperative that the Government addresses the funding of local government.”


Norman Lamb tables motion in Parliament congratulating Norwich City on promotion to Premier League

Norman Lamb, long-standing Norwich City fan, has tabled a House of Common motion celebrating the club’s ‘extraordinary’ feat. He has joined with Labour MP Mark Tami in sponsoring this motion.

Norman Lamb today paid tribute to Norwich City’s extraordinary success in the 2018/19 Championship, by tabling a motion in Parliament which congratulated the club.

After finishing the 2017/18 season in a middling 14th position, Norwich’s rise to the top has, in Lamb’s words, “won admiration not only in Norfolk but across the country”.

Lamb highlighted the international dynamic of the team, with players from many countries coming together to secure promotion to the Premier League.

Norman Lamb, a season ticket holder at Carrow Road, congratulated the team’s Head Coach, Daniel Farke, and Sporting Director, Stuart Webber.

He picked out Tom Trybull, Teemu Pukki and Emiliano Buendia as three players who have particularly stellar seasons. Mr Lamb referred to Buendia as, “the next Messi”.  

Norman Lamb MP said:

“What an incredible achievement this is.

Norwich City are a club with limited means, and our start to the season was rocky. But Sporting Director Stuart Webber has managed to assemble an unbelievable team from across the world, and with Daniel Farke at the wheel we have pulled off the impossible.

I’m delighted to be able to table an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons which commemorates Norwich’s success. I strongly encourage all my colleagues who appreciate the beauty of football to sign! Bring on the Premier League!

Along with seeing most games at Carrow Road this season I have also seen them at Bolton, Millwall and Rotherham. It has been a magnificent journey for every supporter.”

Notes:

Norman Lamb’s Early Day Motion (EDM 2377) read:

That this House warmly congratulates Norwich City Football Club on winning the Championship title and on their promotion to the Premier League; commends Head Coach, Daniel Farke and Sporting Director, Stuart Webber, for achieving this extraordinary feat on a modest budget, bringing together players of many nationalities with brilliant technical ability and instilling an amazing work ethic and a commitment to the cause which has won admiration not only in Norfolk but across the country; noting in particular that Tom Trybull achieved a 90% pass completion rate over the course of the season, Teemu Pukki scored 29 league goals despite being acquired on a free transfer from Brøndby, and Emiliano Buendia, from Argentina, at the age of 22, scored 8 goals and registered 12 assists; recognises that this success has brought immense joy to so many people; thanks the players for giving everything throughout this long campaign to make this possible; and thanks everyone else involved at the club for playing their part in this historic achievement. 


Norman Lamb joins first ever cross-party network in Parliament

Norman Lamb has joined 50 Members of Parliament from seven political parties to establish a groundbreaking network for cross-party campaigning in Westminster.

The More United MP Network is the latest addition to a fast-changing landscape in the House of Commons and its members have committed to working cross-party in the national interest, no matter who is in power.

The network will tackle ‘issues ignored because of Brexit’ by the emerging cross-party movement of over 150,000 members who share a desire to move Britain forward. Initial campaigns will focus on poverty and homelessness, responsible technology, mental health and urgent need to tackle the climate emergency.

More United members are able to support campaigns through online petitions, surveys and write to your MP initiatives as well as local outreach and lobbying events. Members across the UK are able to work with politicians from all parties through More United campaigns, no matter which constituency they live in and they also have a vote on which MPs to support at election time.

With millions of people signing online petitions there is a clear appetite for using digital technology to engage with politics. By fusing online engagement opportunities with MPs of all parties the group intends to become a significant mass movement with 250,000 members and 100 MPs on board by the end of 2020.

Norman Lamb MP said:

“It is a great privilege to join this new cross-party network with colleagues I respect and have worked with from across Parliament.

I have always believed that the best way to achieve change in politics is by working with others putting the interest of our constituents first. Recent times show that it is clear our politics needs to become less tribal and more pragmatic and consensual.

I have already been working with colleagues and friends to seek to resolve the Brexit impasse in Parliament and look forward to continuing to tackle the big issues our country faces by working with them.”

Notes:

  1. More United is a cross party movement working to build a fair and thriving country by giving a voice to the people who want to move Britain forward. The movement was founded in 2016 in response to the political events of that year and now has over 150,000 members. Find out more here.
  2. A full list of the MPs involved in the network can be found here.
  3. More United has led successful cross-party campaigns on Immigration rules (Tier 2 visas and EU citizen Fees), restoring the Enable Fund for Deaf and Disabled people and access to Legal Aid
  4. More United is not and will not become a political party.
  5. Hansard Society research shows 75% of people believe political parties are so divided they can’t effectively serve the country.
  6. A recent You Gov poll found that 73% of people think politicians and parties working together would make British politics work better. This is compared to just 34% who believe a new party would achieve the same goal.

Village Tour - 2018 dates

Norman Lamb is holding open air advice surgeries around North Norfolk’s villages, Tuesday 28 – Thursday 30 August, as part of his annual Village Tour.

If you have any issues or concerns you’d like to raise with him, come along! No appointment needed, just show up. See below for this year’s schedule.

If you can’t attend but would like to speak with Norman Lamb, please get in touch with his office by emailing norman.lamb.mp@parliament.uk or calling 01692403752.

Read more

Changes to our Privacy Policy

My office is making changes to our Privacy Policy to comply with the requirements of a new EU privacy law known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which comes into effect from 25th May 2018.

Every week, I am contacted by hundreds of constituents asking for my support and assistance on a wide range of issues. It’s important to us that you feel confident that your personal information is safe and being looked after, so we have updated our privacy policy to clearly set out why and how I will collect, use, disclose and manage your personal information as I carry out my duties as your Member of Parliament. It also sets out your rights over personal information that I hold about you.

Click here to read our updated Privacy Policy in full.

If you have any comments, questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me by emailing norman.lamb.mp@parliament.uk.  Alternatively, you can speak to my Privacy Officer on 01692 403752.

Yours ever,

Norman


Norman Lamb leads debate on Valproate scandal

The Government has a moral duty to provide financial assistance to the thousands of families affected by the epilepsy drug sodium valproate, Norman Lamb argued in the House of Commons today. 

Since the 1970s, around 20,000 children have been born with severe congenital defects and developmental problems after medical regulators deliberately withheld information about the risks of taking the drug during pregnancy.  Leading a debate in Parliament, the North Norfolk MP called for an inquiry or a Hillsborough-style panel to find out “how on earth this outrageous scandal could ever have happened”, in addition to financial support for the victims.

He urged the Government to ensure that women are given mandatory warnings about the risks of taking valproate during pregnancy, after a recent survey found that more than two-thirds (68%) of women have still not received a set educational materials that were released in February 2016 to make sure that all those of childbearing age are fully informed of the dangers before being prescribed the medicine. 

During the debate, Norman highlighted the experiences of Becky Parish in Norfolk, whose seven year-old son was born with several abnormalities and developmental disorders due to ‘Fetal Valproate Syndrome’ – including a prominent cleft lip and palate, speech difficulties, low height and weight, and aggressional and destructive behavioural problems. Becky was originally blamed for her son’s behaviour by social services, who thought that the problems related to a detachment disorder until he was eventually diagnosed with Fetal Valproate Syndrome by a geneticist.

Closing his speech, the MP argued that there is “an overwhelming moral case” for a financial package for those affected, similar to the support provided to victims of thalidomide. He pointed to a €10 million fund that was recently established for valproate victims in France, and urged the Government to consider similar proposals in the UK.

Responding to the debate, Health Minister Philip Dunne said that the Government is “taking the matter seriously”.  He declined to directly address the question of compensation or an inquiry. However, Norman Lamb – Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Valproate – is scheduled to meet with the health minister Lord O’Shaughnessy in December to discuss these issues further.

Commenting afterwards, Norman Lamb said:

“This is a massive and continuing scandal. It beggars belief that women have been kept in the dark for decades about the risks of taking Valproate during pregnancy. Now it has emerged that the regulator took a decision to hide the risks from women when Valproate was first licensed in the 1970s.

“Now there is a moral imperative that the Government do right by all those affected. It is estimated that 20,000 babies have been born with birth defects or developmental problems. Mothers have been left distraught and suffering guilt when they themselves are the victims. They deserve an apology and a financial support package. There also needs to be an Inquiry or Hillsborough-style Panel to get to the bottom of how this massive failure can have happened.

“I am meeting the Health Minister in December to discuss these demands along with other members of the cross-party group, and I hope that he will accept the case we are making.”

 

Notes

The full debate, including Norman Lamb’s speech, can be read here.

Studies have shown that children exposed to the drug during pregnancy are at an approx. 11% risk of congenital malformations at birth, compared with a 2% to 3% risk in the general population. These include spina bifida, facial defects (e.g. cleft palate) and neural tube defects.  Studies show a 30-40% risk of developmental problems, including delayed walking and talking, memory problems, difficulty with speech and language, lower intellectual ability. Children exposed to valproate in the womb are also at an increased risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autistic spectrum disorders (link).

Medicines regulators were aware of the dangers of the drug as far back as 1973.  However, meeting minutes recently uncovered by campaigners reveal that a decision was made to keep the information from women “as it may give rise to fruitless anxiety”. Although the Committee on Safety of Medicines recommended that prescribers should be informed of the risks, it advised that these warnings should not be included in packaging leaflets “so that there would be no danger of patients themselves seeing it.”

Following a Europe-wide review of the safety of the medicine in 2013-14, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) released a toolkit of educational materials in February 2016 to ensure that healthcare professionals and all women taking sodium valproate are aware of these dangers.  However, a survey in September 2017 by three epilepsy charities revealed that more than two-thirds (68%) of women of childbearing age had still not received any of the materials – putting hundreds of unborn children at continued risk.

The following motion was debated, and passed without a vote.

That this House notes with concern that there has been a systematic failure to inform women of the dangers of taking the epilepsy drug sodium valproate during pregnancy, resulting in thousands of children being born with congenital malformations, disabilities and developmental disorders since the 1970s as a result of fetal exposure to the drug; welcomes the launch of the Valproate Toolkit by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency in February 2016 to ensure that women are informed of the potential risks of the drug, but further notes with concern a recent survey which found that 68 per cent of women have still not received these safety warnings; calls on the Government to take immediate steps to ensure that the materials in the Valproate Toolkit are distributed to all prescribing clinicians, pharmacists, and women who are being prescribed the drug; calls on the Government to require all clinicians prescribing sodium valproate to women and girls of childbearing age to discuss annually with the patient the risks during pregnancy before a prescription is renewed; and further calls on the Government to bring forward proposals for a care plan and financial assistance to the victims of sodium valproate in pregnancy and their families.


Dangerous uncertainty for community transport must end

The future of community transport in North Norfolk could be put under threat if new rules force providers to apply for expensive operator licenses, Norman Lamb warned in the House of Commons today.

Speaking in Transport Questions, the North Norfolk MP urged the Government to clarify whether services in North Norfolk will now have to apply for the licenses, after local community transport groups raised concerns that the cost of doing so could push their businesses under.

Under the current system, community transport providers operating on a non-profit basis have been able to apply for permits allowing them to carry passengers without first holding the Public Service Vehicle (PSV) operator’s licence.

However, there has been growing controversy around the different treatment of commercial and non-commercial businesses, and the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) recently ruled that one non-commercial service was failing to comply with legal operating requirements by not holding a full license.

The Government subsequently confirmed that other non-commercial services could now be expected to hold a full PSV operator’s licence and use drivers with specific qualifications. However, the Department for Transport has not announced which companies the new operating requirements will apply, or when a proposed consultation will begin. It says that while not all local community transport providers will be affected by the new ruling, it “is likely to affect larger operators in what may in effect be commercial operations”.

Community transport providers in North Norfolk now face significant uncertainty as to whether – and when – they will be expected to comply with the new requirements. There are also concerns about the cost of training drivers up to the new standards, which could see some organisations become non-viable.

In the House of Commons, Norman pressed the Government to end the ‘dangerous’ uncertainty for community transport providers, and to set a date for the long-awaited consultation. He asked:

“Many community transport operators, including North Norfolk Community Transport, are concerned that the new ruling will push them under, losing absolutely vital rural community transport links. What is the minister doing to ensure that this doesn’t happen, and what is the timescale for the consultation – when will this actually come in? Because the uncertainty is very dangerous.”

The Transport Minister, Jesse Norman MP, responded:

I fully recognise the concern. As he will know, the Department is taking a very careful attitude. There will be no rapid over-enforcement on this. We will be giving people as much chance as possible to show that their activities are not commercial in the required sense. We launch the consultation later this autumn and I think we’ll take it from there.”

Commenting afterwards, Norman Lamb said:

“There is a real uncertainty hanging over community transport providers in North Norfolk and across the whole country. These organisations provide vital transport services for many villages, and are particularly important for elderly and disabled people who otherwise face being isolated. I have real concerns that this ongoing uncertainty could have serious consequences by leaving transport services unable to plan for the year ahead. 

“It was disappointing that the Government failed to set a firm date for the consultation or clarify when the new requirements will come into effect. I will be writing to the Transport Secretary to demand clarification on these points.” 

Read the full story in the Eastern Daily Press


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