Timms looks to amend online harms bill to tackle scams

Timms looks to amend online harms bill to tackle scams
Stephen Timms, MP and chair of the Work and Pensions Committee

Stephen Timms is preparing to table an emergency amendment to the upcoming Online Safety bill in a bid to tackle scams.

The chairman of the Work and Pensions Committee raised alarm that the bill in its current form may not address the problem of online scams and said he was willing to step in to force change. 

The bill, which will be put forward to parliament in due course, aims to provide a new regulatory framework for online safety to keep UK users safe. 

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He first told FTAdviser in January he intended to table such an amendment to the Department for Culture, Media and Sports' Online Safety Bill during a Fireside Chat interview. 

Speaking at the Pimfa Virtual Fest V2 yesterday (March 10), Timms confirmed his intention, and said: “The pensions freedoms have given lots of people in their 50s and 60s access to a large capital sum and often for the very first time in their lives. They face new risks as a result and many of those risks are now online. 

“The government has said it’s going to bring forward an Online Harms bill – potentially ground-breaking legislation to impose on Goggle, Facebook et al a duty of care for what appears on their platforms. 

“But it seems the government is going to limit this bill to problems like child sexual exploitation but they don’t seem to be planning to address financial online harms."

He added: “We can’t leave this for future legislation. I am looking at the possibility of tabling an amendment to that bill when it’s published to bring financial harms within its scope. 

“My impression is there would be very strong support for that proposition, right across the financial services industry and I really hope it’s an opportunity that isn’t missed.” 

Advisers have already started writing to their MPs, asking them to urge the government to include financial harms in the bill.

Timms said it is important to address this because online platforms are profiting from adverts promoting scams. 

He said: “At the moment online platforms are making money from scam adverts and fake websites and they are also making money from ScamSmart adverts published by the Financial Conduct Authority as well. 

“I called on the prime minister in the House of Commons a month ago to ensure that the planned bill does tackle online financial harms. He recognised the problem and he said ‘we will look at what we can do’.” 

During the online session entitled ‘Protecting Savers: The Work of the WPSC and Options For Government’, Timms, used his speech to highlight alarming research, which found that fraud accounts for a third of all crime in the UK, but is only allocated around 1 per cent of police resources toward tackling it.  

Commenting on this disparity, Timms said: “That extraordinary mismatch helps explain why we’ve got such a big problem.”