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Mortgages: Cerberus

Volume 794: debated on Wednesday 28 November 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they intend to take to ensure that those holding mortgages sold by UK Asset Resolution to Cerberus receive a fair deal, and are able to access good value fixed rate mortgages.

My Lords, the Government believe that better deals should not be beyond the reach of customers who continue to pay their mortgage. The Treasury is working closely with the Financial Conduct Authority and industry to explore what options are available to help customers with inactive lenders. In the meantime, Landmark Mortgages Ltd, which manages mortgages and was sold by UKAR to Cerberus in 2015, is an FCA-regulated organisation and is bound by the FCA principle of treating customers fairly.

My Lords, after Northern Rock went bust, many of its mortgages were sold by UK Asset Resolution to Cerberus, an American hedge fund not authorised by the FCA. At the time, UK Asset Resolution said that returning those borrowers to the private sector would mean that they would be offered new deals, extra lending and fixed rates. This was completely untrue. Instead, about 100,000 borrowers were trapped. They continue to pay very high interest and are not allowed by Cerberus to have a fixed-rate mortgage. Many are now in deep financial difficulty. Can the Minister tell those mortgage prisoners when they may be rescued from Cerberus and what lessons UK Asset Resolution has learned from this sorry episode?

The noble Lord is right to highlight that this traces back to 2008 and the financial crisis, when we had immense irresponsibility in the mortgage lending system. Some mortgages were offered at 120% of the value of the mortgage, allowing people to self-certify their income. Those mortgages, banks and institutions were then rescued. As a result of state aid rules, they were then unable to offer new mortgages. The mortgage prisoners, to use the noble Lord’s term, were then doubly blighted by the fact that in the intervening time, the European Union mortgage credit directive came into effect, which introduced an affordability test which meant that they could not apply to transfer to another lender to achieve a mortgage at a lower rate—they were indeed trapped.

We have tried to find how we can help that situation. We are working with the FCA—we are aware of the representations being made—and will continue to do so. My honourable friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury will be writing further on this important issue.

My Lords, the months and years slip by. The Minister says that every constructive effort is being made, but there is precious little in the way of a solution to this problem for these mortgage holders. When a question involves a number of people in considerable difficulty and relates to difficulties with the banking and mortgage sector over a decade, it behoves the Minister to produce a better response than that we are looking four or five years ahead before we have made even a significant gesture.

There is that aspect to it. I do not want to make a partisan point, but it is part of cleaning up the mess of the irresponsible lending happening in the past. These people find themselves in this situation. We and the Financial Conduct Authority are asking how we can work with the industry to come up with solutions whereby there might be greater flexibility for some people who are trapped to move to lower interest rate mortgages. At the moment, people who are on UK Asset Resolution mortgages may be paying 4% to 5%, but there are better deals, potentially, at 3% to 4%. How do they get on to them? If they have equity in their property, are up to date with their mortgage and have the income to justify it under the new rules, they can already move. It is those people who do not fall into those three categories for whom we need to work for a solution within the new European rules. That is what we are turning our attention to.

Does my noble friend fully understand that most of these people are, if I may use the phrase, very ordinary people? They are not experienced in financial matters in any depth, and it really is a particular problem. It is totally non-party political. It is an issue that the FCA should give greater priority to than it has done hereto. I hope not to have to stand up in a year’s time to ask this question again.

It is a major issue. The average size of the mortgage held under UK Asset Resolution is around £120,000. People find themselves in these very difficult situations, but we are bound by the rules as they are. There will be some opportunity to offer a little bit of flexibility when the credit directive has to be onshored into UK legislation. There will be that opportunity, within tight limits, to look again at some of these aspects, and of course we will do that to the full with the FCA.

The mortgage prisoners that have been created by this deal between UK Asset Resolution and Cerberus are seeking to get further mortgages. Cerberus gave an undertaking when it bought this package of mortgages that they would be allowed to do so. Is the Minister saying that Cerberus is helping these people to get the lower mortgages that are available and to stop being imprisoned in the deal that was done at the time? Will UK Asset Resolution also ensure that if any future mortgages are sold off, the undertakings given will be upheld?

My Lords, I will not go into the technical detail, but one of the conditions for Cerberus to operate in this country was that it operate under a regulated body, so it operates under Landmark Mortgages. It is not active in the lending market, so the people who can move to get the better deals are those who are up to date with their payments, have equity in their property and can meet the new affordability test. That is the conundrum that we are seeking to find a way through.

My Lords, my colleagues, in two different ways, have asked the same question, which is what lessons have the Government learned, and how will they avoid this happening again? Will the Minister please answer that question?

Yes: I think that lessons have been learned. I am very happy to make available to the noble Lord the response that the Economic Secretary to the Treasury gave to the chairman of the Treasury Select Committee on 12 November this year—which sets out many of the details of what we can learn—as well as the response from the Financial Conduct Authority to the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey. I am happy to make both available.