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Mortgage Fraud

Volume 486: debated on Thursday 15 January 2009

In November, the National Fraud Strategic Authority published an action plan to bring together public and private efforts to target mortgage fraud, and it intends to review the plan in a year. In support of that programme, about a tenth of the Serious Fraud Office’s current caseload is about mortgage fraud.

I thank the Solicitor-General for her reply. My constituents, like those in other areas, are having difficulty in obtaining mortgage finance for the purchase of homes in the current economic climate. Given the difficulties in obtaining funds, can she assure me that she will do everything she can, working with the legal profession, to ensure that the funds that are available are used for legitimate house purchases and not by profiteering fraudsters?

As ever, my hon. Friend has the interests of his constituents closely in mind. The SFO has recently produced best practice guidance both for lenders and for lawyers who deal with mortgages. The intention of that is, in part, to make it crystal clear when something odd is beginning to happen in a mortgage transaction so that a broader range of people than has been the case historically are able to spot it before things go too wrong. An important part of the whole fraud strategy is turning resources towards protection and prevention and, as the Director of Public Prosecutions said recently, as one would expect the prosecution and investigation authorities are taking on board what is happening in the economy and assessing its impact on crime patterns. I hope that gives my hon. Friend some of the reassurance that he seeks.

The SFO and the Financial Services Authority seem to have been asleep at the wheel in recent years in respect of mortgage fraud and near-fraud, which appears to have been carried out by some financial services companies themselves. Can the Solicitor-General tell me what steps she proposes to take, with her ministerial colleagues, to improve the rather poor performance of the SFO and FSA in recent years?

My hon. Friend’s point is unarguable really, although it was not all bad in the SFO and there were some very commendable results. He will know that a review of its functioning was carried out by Jessica de Grazia, which reported in 2008, and that a fresh director, Richard Alderman, was appointed around the same time. He has instituted quite a large number of the changes that Ms de Grazia proposed and some further ones; they are designed primarily to strengthen the leadership team, improve staff training and shorten the time that it takes to get cases to court. Quite a sizeable transformation programme is in process, and I shall send my hon. Friend more detail of that if he so wishes.