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FSA fines broker £10,500 for equity release failings

The FSA has fined a broker £10,500 for exposing consumers to the risk of being sold unsuitable equity release mortgage products.

The Minel Group Limited – based in Newcastle Upon Tyne – has to review its sales of lifetime mortgages from 9 November 2004 to 9 December 2005, to compensate customers for any loss caused by unsuitable advice, and has agreed to stop selling lifetime mortgages.

This is the first time the FSA has taken enforcement action against a lifetime mortgage adviser.

The FSA discovered persistent record keeping failures and systems and controls deficiencies during visits to the firm as part of its thematic work on equity release advice.

It says that Minel had insufficient procedures for controlling its lifetime mortgage business and the quality of advice provided. It also failed to record sufficient information about customers’ personal and financial circumstances to establish their needs and objectives, and to demonstrate the suitability of its recommendations.

The FSA says that despite lifetime mortgages being a higher risk product, Minel did not have any specific training and competence procedures for training staff or ensuring effective monitoring of competence.

Head of retail enforcement Georgina Philippou says: “We remain concerned about higher risk products like lifetime mortgages, and the FSA has been monitoring this aspect of the market since mortgage regulation began. Firms must have appropriate systems and controls in place to ensure that suitable advice is given on these products even where, as in this case, a firm is writing low volumes of business.

“This is the first time we have taken such action against a lifetime mortgage adviser, and the combination of a fine, a past business review, and ceasing all lifetime mortgage business should leave firms in no doubt that the FSA will hold them to account if they fail to treat their customers fairly.”

Minel agreed to settle at an early stage of the FSA’s investigation and therefore qualified for a 30 per cent discount of the fine under the executive settlement procedures. Without the discount the fine would have been £15,000.

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