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For-bearance or against it?

So what actually are the FSA after then?  Do they want firms to treat their ‘customers fairly’ when in times of temporary financial shortages, or do they want lenders and administrators to be more transparent to them when reporting residential mortgage arrears and shortfall figures?  Read between the lines of the FSA’s latest guidance paper on ‘Forbearance and Impairment Provisions – Mortgages’ you could be forgiven for wondering: in whose interests has the guidance been written.

Whereas the guidance is laudable, the best practice suggestions are surely what most responsible lenders carry out now, isn’t it? So what the FSA are really asking for is more information from firms on what the true position is with regards to the lenders risk of exposure to arrears and borrowers going into default.

Pre-arrears or potential impairment indicators can be easy to identify and actioned if lenders have the relevant system triggers and sophisticated workflow, but what should they do once they’ve identified the poor consumer who may be demonstrating the early onslaught of ‘household poverty’? 

Well, various reviews have been undertaken by the FSA around arrears and responsible lending and this latest guidance highlights many of their concerns around how forbearance measures are monitored and reported. 

One of the main areas of concern is with regards to short term switches from Capital and Interest (C&I) to an Interest-only repayment type mortgage.  If the lender has done this to enable a borrower to cope during times of financial stress, the FSA still want the lender to accrue an arrears figure against the mortgage which equates to the difference between the interest they are currently paying and what they should have paid on a C&I basis.  Apparently the current practice of trying to protect the borrower’s credit rating by not reporting they are in arrears has got to stop. The FSA have been suggesting for a while that the arrears figures being reported by lenders aren’t quite what they’ve expected during a recession, now they’ve sussed out why and want lenders to continue with their practice of carrying out forbearance measures, but make sure they report the true figure!

Even though, all the way through this guidance, the FSA state that they want firms to review their reporting and disclosure of impairment indicators it’s not until the end that they state that regulatory reporting requirements in relation to forbearance activities will be considered separately.  I’m not a betting person, but if I were I’d bet that the next requirement they introduce in this area is specific reporting criteria for how firms identify potential impairment cases and what they do once they are managing them as such.


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