Too many firms not up to scratch on sub-prime, reveals FSA

The Financial Services Authority has revealed that its compliance review of small mortgage brokers advising on sub-prime found too many cases where firms were unable to show that they had followed the required procedures relating to suitability.

Three firms were identified as potentially assisting customers to obtain a mortgage where their income would not meet the lender’s criteria, for example by possibly inflating income on the application form.

These firms have since been referred to enforcement for further investigation.

However. the FSA says it found examples of both good and bad.

The review was the latest in a series conducted by it to establish how the industry is settling into the new statutory mortgage regulation and the mixed findings mirror some of the outcome of the earlier work.

The FSA visited 31 small brokers active in the sub-prime market and looked in detail at 210 case files to assess whether advisers were taking reasonable steps to ensure that recommendations to take out sub-prime mortgages were suitable to the needs and circumstances of the customer.

On practice that goes beyond what FSA rules require, the visits found that 58% of firms intended to review a customer’s sub-prime product at some point in the future once their credit profile had been rehabilitated and 65% said their practice was to issue suitability letters outlining the reasons for a recommendation.

It says in 60% of cases, insufficient information was obtained about the customer in key areas relating to the sale of sub-prime products.

In 80% of cases, there was lack of evidence to show how the recommended sub-prime product met the customer’s needs and circumstances.

And in 67% of those cases which involved debt consolidation, firms could not demonstrate that they had taken account of the additional requirements related to debt consolidation mortgages and thus it was unclear whether the recommendation was appropriate.

Andy Watson, head of the mortgages and credit union department at the FSA, says: “Sub-prime is a growing area of the mortgage market and we have identified it is a priority area for our mortgage supervision.

“We are publishing examples of good and bad practice in a Briefing Note going up on our Website today and we will be working with firms to raise the standard of sub-prime sales and advice.

“It is difficult to establish the level of consumer detriment or potential mis-selling as many of the failings related to poor record-keeping and brokers could provide more detail when challenged, but we will be looking for better evidence of compliance with our requirements in future.

“Where we find examples of possible inflation of incomes, we will make further enquiries which may lead to referrals to enforcement”

A further review of small firms active in the sub-prime market is planned for the first part of next year.

The FSA is also currently conducting a review of small mortgage firms’ practice with regard to the self-cert market and plans to publish its findings on this in the autumn.