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Equity Release – The Only Way is Ethics

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

With news that equity release schemes are becoming more of a mainstream mortgage for the over 55’s, we look at how the equity release market is regulating the protection of its consumers.

 

We have all heard the stories of how equity release schemes are bad for you and the local gossip columnists berating the expense of these plans. However, the equity release industry has come a long way since the original equity release plans were offered in 1965 when the average house price was approximately £4,000!

 

Why was regulation introduced?

It was the earlier version of equity release schemes that started creating a stir. Back in 1988 a new type of plan was introduced called a ‘home income plan’. They relied on using two financial instruments – an annuity or investment bond to provide an income, which in turn paid an interest only mortgage that raised the initial capital. The annuity income would have been sufficient to not only pay the mortgage but also provide additional funds to supplement the applicant’s income.

 

In 1988, the principles of the scheme were sound. However, there was no account taken of how future interest rates may change after a years of economic stability. Therefore when interest rates rose steeply in 1990 and property prices fell significantly, there were unfortunate cases of people experiencing negative equity. Additionally, as a consequence of higher interest rates, the annuity income became insufficient to cover the monthly mortgage payments, thereby wiping out the residual personal income also. These home income plans were subsequently banned.

 

The launch of SHIP

Such disastrous events were the catalyst for greater regulation of these equity release type products and led to providers in this market forming a coalition. This was heralded as SHIP (Safe Home Income Plans) and was introduced in 1991 to protect the holders of such schemes and their beneficiaries.

 

Further bad news

However, the problems were not answered immediately. During the mid 1990’s we had certain banks – Barclays and Bank of Scotland introducing SAM’s (Shared Appreciation Mortgages). These schemes worked on the basis that the mortgagee released an amount of equity in return for a proportion of the house value. No monthly payments of interest were required. However, the banks took not just the current value, but also a percentage of the future value.

You may recall that the mid to late 1990’s house prices thereafter soared. The bias was obviously in the banks favour (no changes there) to the tune of approximately three to one in their favour in any property escalation.

These schemes were consequently withdrawn and we are still hearing stories in the news today about people who took out SAM’s & have no redress financially from the FSA.

 

Step forward the FSA

Sooner, rather than later the Financial Services Authority stepped in to regulate the market & by 2004 the Government had brought forth legislation protecting lifetime mortgage customers. The protection didn’t just stop with the schemes; financial advisers now came under the auspices of the FSA and had to meet certain criteria to be able to provide equity release advice.

The FSA then introduced the Financial Ombudsman Service and put the FSA Compensation scheme in place to recompense people who had been mis-sold. Previously, applicants only had the courts as protection and taking on the banks could prove an expensive exercise.

By 2007, Home Reversion schemes were also governed by the FSA leading to stricter controls on all types of equity release schemes.

 

By this time some of the major equity release companies such as Norwich Union (now Aviva) and Northern Rock had joined SHIP. Equity release schemes started going through innovation with drawdown equity release plans becoming popular and being released initially by Prudential, Just Retirement & Hodge Lifetime. With mixed attitudes towards beneficiary’s inheritance, we had the introduction of interest only lifetime mortgages from Stonehaven which allowed some, or all of the interest charged being paid off.

So, not only has the market emphasis changed towards regulation, but also the products themselves have seen massive changed in concept and design.

 

Further peace of mind – legals

So far we have talked about how the FSA has helped regulate the market and the equity release companies themselves designing better products, but what about the equity release process itself?

 

The legal aspects of equity release have now been indoctrinated within the SHIP rules. It is here that extra layers of protection have been provided by the equity release solicitors and provide the final checks of the equity application process. From checking the identity of the applicants, establishing genuine reasons for the raising of capital, particularly when gifting to family and ensuring legal title & conveyancing thereof, solicitors have an important role to play.

 

Under SHIP rules, two solicitors must be involved – one for the applicant & the second on behalf of the lender. This is to ensure there is no conflict of interest and protect both the lender & equity release customer. The applicant’s solicitor must also sign a SHIP certificate to state he is satisfied that all aspects of the equity release have been brought to their attention, implications & that the rules of ‘caveat emptor’ persist. Until the SHIP certificate is signed then no equity release application can complete.

 

SHIP update

Further rebranding of SHIP was felt necessary as the market grew and a louder voice was felt necessary for the equity release market as a whole. After much debate it was proposed that ‘The Equity Release Council’ would provide the new voice of the industry. SHIP has now moved on and hopefully the feeling and attitude to all things equity release. It has travelled much distance since 1965 and overcome some dark days along the way.

 

Nevertheless, this is a new dawn for the equity release industry. With greater trust, greater demand and greater product innovation still to come the future is looking bright for the protection of its customers.

 

If you are considering equity release and need assistance on receiving the best equity release advice call the team on 0800 678 5159.

 

 
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