I have just been to the meeting of the Equitable Life All Party Group to hear Minister Liam Byrne and Sir John Chadwick explaining the current situation on compensation. It was clear that the Government has been dragging its feet in making decisions to allow Sir John to consider the sort of flexible and wide-ranging scheme he envisaged. Now we are told there is to be a further consultation on a third interim report from Sir John and a final report to Government in May. Meanwhile, policy holders are dying of old age. The irony is that it may be left to a new Government to make final decisions – Labour having kicked the issue well into the long grass over such a long period. It does seem that Government and Sir John envisage that the estates of the deceased will have a claim on the compensation scheme, but that does not make it right that the policy holder has had to wait so long.
Today David Cameron has attacked the Government’s appalling record on its treatment of Equitable Life policy holders and promised “If we win the election, we’re going to sort out Equitable Life very early on.” Not mincing his words, David accused the Government of having a “sick” attitude to the policy holders for essentially “waiting for them to die”.
Equitable policy holders have been treated in a terrible way by the Government which has promised compensation but never delivered.
Worst of all is the callous way they have been kept hanging on; the Government took eight years to agree to award compensation and that was only after scathing judgments from the Ombudsman, yet still not a single payment has been made.
I admire the way our Ombudsman Ann Abrahams has squared up to Government over this scandal. Meanwhile the view of the victims’ representatives, the Equitable Members Action Group (EMAG) is that the Government is waiting for policy holders to die before payment. EMAG believes that 40,000 policyholders have died since 2000.
I have taken the issue up with ministers many times and have spoken on the issue in the Chamber of the House of Commons, the last time was in October 2009.
I recently met Hertfordshire victims at the House of Commons and their suffering is real. So this needs sorting out and we should not forget that whilst the victims have been waiting, the Government has found billions to bail out banks and do quantitative easing.
It has been a long time coming, but I am pleased that the victims of Equitable Life, including a number of my constituents, are to receive some compensation as recommended by the Parliamentary Ombudsman. However the proof of the pudding will be in the eating and I am concerned that the Government scheme seems to be hedged about with all sorts of conditions, and is to be means-tested. Given that the Government has been found guilty of maladministration and refused to pay out for so long, I would have thought the least they could do was to have a fair scheme that will pay out quickly.
The full details are not yet known and we will have to see if the outcome is better than I fear it may be.