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Equity release sector is in good shape

Final lending figures for 2006 are expected to show a positive move was made by the equity release market with current estimates being in the region of 1.5bn – the first significant increase we have seen in the past few years.

To some extent, this has been driven by consolidation among advisers who have placed considerable emphasis on the quality of service given by providers.

And last year also produced a number of warning shots from the Financial Services Authority which still has concerns when it comes to the systems and controls that exist in the equity release market.

But for the first time the regulator also acknowledged that there was clear evidence of good practice among specialists and providers, which in some cases exceeded the statutory requirements.

So what will the regulator do in 2007? Those who are merely dabbling in the equity release market are firmly in the FSA’s sights. To sum up 2006, it was a year that left few in the industry with anywhere to hide.

Prior to last year it could be argued that the tools to do the job to the required standard were not available commercially. Last year eradicated this limitation with the launch of a number of initiatives offering training and resources to organisations and individuals to provide the levels of support the intermediary sector had been asking for.

The year ended on a high with the long awaited launch by Stonehaven of its equity release proposition. Its wide-ranging offering should receive more recognition as we move through 2007.

Also, moving strongly through 2006 was Bridgewater, which demonstrated increased flexibility.

Meanwhile, Retirement Plus showed that there is still plenty of room for the home reversion industry to develop and meet some of the concerns of consumers and advisers in offering an alternative solution.

In 2007 I expect to see innovative home reversion providers begin to reap the rewards which are long overdue.

On April 6 this year we will see home reversion regulation become a reality and now is a good time to remind those who wish to advise on home reversions that they will need a variation of their permissions to do so from the date of regulation.

Coinciding with this date is the launch of the new equity release examination which will replace the current lifetime qualification. A top-up for the lifetime exam will need to be taken within a two-year period for those advisers holding the present qualification.

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