Monday, 30 June 2014

Police meeting over Wonga

It has emerged that City of London Police representatives are meeting regulators for discussions about Wonga, the payday lender which is embroiled in controversy over letters sent to customers.

Wonga sent letters from non-existent law firms to customers in arrears between 2008 and 2010.

Last week, the the City regulator the FCA said the company had agreed to pay £2.6m in compensation to about 45,000 customers - an average of about £50 each.

The police then confirmed  that they would "be reassessing whether a criminal investigation is now appropriate."

Previously they had ruled it out, saying the case should be left to the regulator.

Today's event -- at the FCA -- is thought to be an initial, exploratory meeting and is unlikely to be followed by announcements on future action.

City of London Police would not comment on the meeting or confirm that it was taking place.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Free calls for child maintenance

The government has bowed to pressure from campaigners to make sure that parents don't have to pay to telephone for help with child maintenance.

Although the Child Maintenance Options helpline -- run by G4S -- is an 0800 number and free to phone from landlines, mobile calls can cost up to 41p per minute.

Now the Department for Work and Pensions says it has struck a deal with two providers, 'Virgin' and '3', to remove the charges from next month, with the taxpayer picking up the bill.

Discussions with the other major mobile companies are "ongoing".

Separated parents have to phone the number in order to make an application for support using the new Child Maintenance Service.

Gingerbread, which campaigns for single parents, called the move a U-turn and "an important victory for families for whom every penny counts".

The industry regulator, Ofcom, has introduced new rules which will make calls to 0800 numbers free for all, including mobile users, but these will not come into force until June 2015.

Friday, 13 June 2014

£11 on your mortgage

Millions of mortgage borrowers with variable rate loans face an earlier hike in their monthly payments after Mark Carney, the Bank of England Governor, said the first hike in rates "could happen sooner".

A likely 0.25 per cent rise would put at extra £11 a month on the average mortgage of £87,000.

After the Governor's speech the City of London is speculating that the increase will come before the end of the year, rather than next spring.

More than 7 million homeowners have variable rate mortgages, which track the Bank's base rate or the lender's Standard Variable Rate or SVR.

That's 65 per cent of all mortgage borrowers. The rest, on fixed rates, wouldn't be affected until their mortgage deals expire.

Some of those paying SVR might also be protected for a time, if their lenders decide not to pass on an increase.

Mortgage experts are also warning that new fixed rate deals could soon become more expensive as the financial markets begin to anticipate an earlier rise in rates.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Cash machine freedom

A million people with basic bank accounts at RBS and NatWest will be able to use the full UK network of cash machines after the banking group reversed a decision to restrict them to its own machines.

Lloyds says it will also give cash machine freedom to its basic bank account customers.

The accounts provide a stripped-down service, with no cheque book or overdraft.

The RBS Group has 8,000 cash dispensers and Lloyds, including Bank of Scotland and Halifax, has 6,500.

Adding the whole LINK network will mean customers will have access 67,000 machines which most current account account customers can use.

The U-turn at RBS comes as the new chief executive, Ross McEwan, tries to win back customer confidence.

It restricted access for basic bank accounts in 2011, saying the service was unsustainable because of the cost.

RBS chief executive Ross McEwan said: "We looked at this and decided it just wasn't right. 

"You don't make life harder for those who need your help most. We need to rebuild trust with our customers."

Lloyds will start sending out new cards to customers from July, allowing them full cash machine freedom.

RBS will implement the change by the end of the year.

Is Cable pre-historic?

Should we go back to limiting home buyers to borrowing 3 to 3.5 times their income, as Vince Cable suggested on BBC Radio this morning?

It's what he calls a "stable level" compared with the multiples of 5 times which some borrowers have been getting.

Here are some responses from the mortgage industry to show you the other side of the argument:

*"You would disappoint around half of first time buyers" because the average income multiple for first timers is 3.42 at the moment, so large numbers are having to borrow more than that.

*"He's pre-historic" because he's harking back to a time (in the late 1980s, early 1990s) when people had to budget for zig-zagging interest rates which could be 15%. You  don't have to do that now, although lenders are stress-testing household income for a jump to 7% rates.

*"It's nonsense", because the regulator, the FCA, has forced lenders to move away from strict income multiples, to detailed affordability checks. For some 5 times income is affordable, for others 3 times income is unaffordable.

*Cable doesn't appreciate that the market in London has already gone "off the boil".