Online Handbook is site of interest

The FSA Handbook section of the regulator\'s website contains much more than just a downloadable copy of the publication and should be of interest to brokers, says Bill Warren

Continuing my look at the Financial Services Authority’s website, if you were thinking that the section ‘FSA Handbook’would merely contain a downloadable copy of the Handbook, think again.

The homepage for this section offers menu options across the top (including Handbook, What’s new?, Instruments/ Guides and Log in), down the left hand side (Full handbook, Tailored handbook and Log in), down the right hand side (What’s new and Useful links) and in the middle (Reader’s guide, Full handbook and User guide).

Naturally, there is a good deal of duplication and cross-referencing of information, and much that is not really essential to the day-to-day running of mortgage firms. I have outlined my suggestions for the most useful and accessible parts of this section below.

The tailored handbooks facility is a relatively new feature and has been developed by the FSA in recognition of the fact that the full legal apparatus of the comprehensive Handbook is daunting for individual readers to tackle. This part of the site contains a list of 14 tailored handbooks accompanied by a checklist of attributes for each option so that site visitors can make sure they have chosen the correct version for themselves.

This section states clearly what the tailored handbooks do and do not contain pointing out that, for example, information on the FSA’s supervisory policies, the handling of complaints by the Financial Ombudsman Service, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme and the calculation of fees and levies must be sourced from the full Handbook.

The Reader’s Guide is a 27-page PDF subtitled ‘an introduction to the Handbook’ and it contains excellent summaries, many in table form, of the FSA’s Standards (High level, Prudential and Business), regulatory processes, redress and specialist sourcebooks.

The User Guide is a six-part guide and, as it is not a standalone PDF, there are many links through to other references. It opens with ‘quick start guide’, setting out how to keep up-to-date with the latest Handbook information, how to make and save searches, what all the icons mean, and more.

The main sections give more in-depth information on the topics covered in the introduction.

The fifth and penultimate section of the FSA website is the FSA register which requires the least amount of explanation. Armed with just a company name or FSA number, visitors can look at the entry for that firm, which includes standard information on permissions, contacts, approved persons, appointed representatives, etc. The homepage of this section reminds site visitors that the facility is simply to conduct ad hoc individual searches. If you want more detailed extracts from the register you must email with your requirements for a price quotation.

Finally, the consumer section might address itself to the general public but it contains a wealth of background information that could be useful to intermediary firms too. Within the main mortgage section there is extensive information for consumers covering affordability, interest rates, fees and costs, reviewing your mortgage and much more.

For those who prefer to read printed information there are a large number of downloadable booklets and fact sheets in the Consumer Publications option. Here, under the mortgage section, there is a pack entitled ‘Choosing a mortgage’ comprising 13 leaflets covering all aspects of mortgage borrowing.

Two other fact sheets are intended for those who are in danger of getting into an arrears situation. These are ‘You can afford your mortgage now – but what if?’ and ‘What to do when you can’t meet your mortgage payments’, and they contain sound advice and useful contact numbers.

Being aware of what the FSA is saying to consumers can be a valuable guide to understanding what it expects from advisers – as well as helping advisers to answer their clients’ more general queries about the process of mortgage borrowing.

I believe familiarity breeds confidence. Even though it may look impossibly complicated and confusing in places, the FSA website offers access to a wide range of valuable information. With just a little extra effort and perseverance this is within everyone’s grasp.

Q1 Why, in recent years, have home income plans become less popular, particularly in relation to the income element within them?