60 seconds with…Claire Barker

CHAIRMAN, EQUITY RELEASE SOLICITORS’ ALLIANCE

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What does ERSA do?
The Equity Release Solicitors’ Alliance is a portal that allows home owners to gain access to independent solicitors who can guide them through the legal aspects of the equity release process. ERSA members will waive their fees if cases do not complete for any reason. The alliance was formed to promote the importance of specialist legal advice in the sector, and members are committed to a 12-point charter which guarantees the best possible legal advice to consumers buying equity release products.

How do you think the new government will affect the equity release sector?
It largely depends on the new administration’s attitude to long-term care funding and pension provision. I’m waiting to hear what the secretary of state for work and pensions’ proposals will be with regard to funding care and addressing the pensions deficit. Equity release is likely to continue to play a big part in allowing consumers to cope with both these things.

Do you think a coalition government will work?
The short answer is no. I think there will be a honeymoon period but the parties’ approaches are too diverse to agree cohesive policies in the longer term. The economy is a dominant issue and one on which both parties are likely to demonstrate their differences as time moves on. It would be great if they could agree a workable stance on the important issues but I don’t think the political arrangement we have at the moment will prove sustainable.

How is the equity release market faring?
It’s as popular as ever. Although the withdrawal of some large providers has had an effect on the size of the market this hasn’t stemmed interest among consumers. There’s a need for these products to remain in existence. As the baby boomers reach retirement the demand for additional income is increasingly apparent. It is vitally important that home owners retain equity release as a tool for financial planning in retirement.

What is the biggest challenge facing the equity release market?
In short, funding. Difficulties in product pricing and the inability of providers to fund innovative products are the greatest barriers to market sustainability and growth. But demand is so high that I’m confident equity release is here to stay.

Interview by Christine Toner