UK Financial Regulator to Probe 'Equity Release' Ads

22 February 2005

Britain's Financial Services Authority, is to take a long hard look at the torrent of daytime TV ads placed by debt consolidation and equity release schemes.

Of especial interest to the FSA are moneylenders that lure borrowers into aggregating store and credit card debt into a loan secured on their home. A typical interest rate for such schemes is 19.9% annually.

Also in the FSA's crosswires are providers of equity release plans for the elderly, a £1.2 billion ($2.27bn; €1.74bn) target softened-up by the current pensions crisis - itself partly due to industry malpractice.

Such firms are suspected of dubious selling techniques, according to the watchdog's latest review, Financial Promotions: Taking Stock and Moving Forward, published Monday.

Says a FSA spokeswoman: "Promotion of any kind should be clear, fair and not misleading. Equity release schemes is an area of relatively high risk and it has not been looked at before because mortgages and general insurance have only just come under our remit.

"We will be taking information from consumers who have contacted us, and the industry also alerts us to promotions that they think may be misleading.

"We do not have responsibility for regulating store and credit cards. But if we go into the area of debt consolidation and see a detriment to consumers then we will focus more of our resources on these areas."

Among the debt consolidation advertisers already penalized by the FSA is AXA Sun Life, fined £500,000 by the FSA last year for misleading advertising. Other miscreants incurring fines include financial data provider Hemscott and Cantor Index, a financial spread-betting firm.

Data sourced from The Times Online (UK); additional content by WARC staff